WASHINGTON: Al-Qaeda and its other terrorist groups based in Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to aspire to attack the US, top American counter-terrorism and intelligence officials told lawmakers today. The officials said the dreaded Islamic State terror outfit was not the only concern for the US.
“ISIS is not the only terrorist group of concern. Al-Qaeda maintains its desire for large-scale spectacular attacks. However, continued CT pressure has degraded the group, and in the near term al-Qaeda is more likely to focus on supporting small-scale, readily achievable attacks against the US and allied interests in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region,” Christopher A Wray, FBI Director told members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.
“Simultaneously, over the last year, propaganda from al-Qaeda leaders seeks to inspire individuals to conduct their own attacks in the United States and the West,” Wray said in his testimony before the Senate Committee on Threats to the Homeland.
Director of National Counterterrorism Center Nicholas J Rasmussen said the US had constrained al-Qaeda’s effectiveness and its ability to recruit, train and deploy operatives from its safe haven in South Asia. “However, this does not mean that the threat from core al-Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan or in eastern Afghanistan has been eliminated,” he told lawmakers.
“We believe that al-Qaeda and its adherents in the region still aspire to conduct attacks and will remain a threat as long as the group can potentially regenerate capability to threaten the Homeland with large-scale attacks,” he said.
“Al-Qaeda’s allies in South Asia, particularly the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, also continue to present a high threat to our regional interests,” Rasmussen said.
He said the terror outfits were also cognizant of the level of risk the US may face over time if al-Qaeda regenerates and finds renewed safe haven or restores lost capability.
“We are on alert for signs that al-Qaeda’s capability to attack the West from South Asia is being restored and would warn immediately if we find trends in that direction,” he said.
Rasmussen asserted that the US government will maintain sufficient capability to continue to put pressure on al-Qaeda’s core network and reduce the risk of its resurgence in the region.
“We also see increasing competition between violent extremist actors within South Asia itself, between and among the Taliban, ISIS’s branch in South Asia, and al-Qaeda,” Rasmussen said, adding that this is an additional dynamic that they are working to understand.
“While conflict among terrorist groups may well distract them from their core mission of plotting attacks against Western targets, conflict also serves to introduce a degree of uncertainty into the terrorism landscape that raises questions that I don’t think we have answers to yet. This is something we are watching very closely,” the official said.