Pe­traeus warns of Western al Qaeda re­cruits

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY SHAUN WATER­MAN

Al Qaeda-linked groups around the world are grow­ing dan­gers, re­cruit­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of ter­ror­ists, many with Western pass­ports who can in­fil­trate the United States or Europe for deadly, small-scale at­tacks, U.S. in­tel­li­gence chiefs warned Congress on Sept. 13.

Is­lamic ex­trem­ists in­spired by al Qaeda are well-es­tab­lished in Yemen and So­ma­lia and are emerg­ing in coun­tries such as Nige­ria, CIA Di­rec­tor David H. Pe­traeus told a joint hear­ing of the Se­nate and House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees.

These af­fil­i­ate groups “have their own com­mand struc­tures, re­source bases and oper­a­tional agen­das, and they largely oper­ate au­tonomously,” he said.

Many of their re­cruits have Western pass­ports and back­grounds that “make them well­suited for tar­get­ing the United States and Europe,” Mr. Pe­traeus said.

Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula, based in Yemen, is the most dan­ger­ous of the af­fil­i­ates, he said. Po­lit­i­cal un­rest in Yemen has helped the ter­ror­ists ex­pand their ter­ri­tory and in­flu­ence.

Al-Shabab in south­ern So­ma­lia is “large and well-funded,” and the law­less East African na­tion is now “one of the world’s most sig­nif­i­cant havens for ter­ror­ists,” Mr. Pe­traeus said.

His warn­ings were given weight by the re­cent ar­rest of four men in Swe­den, charged with plot­ting a ter­ror­ist at­tack in the city of Gothen­burg. The sus­pects, three of whom are nat­u­ral­ized Swedish cit­i­zens, are linked to al-Shabab, ac­cord­ing to Swedish me­dia re­ports.

Mr. Pe­traeus added that al Qaeda af­fil­i­ates also are emerg­ing in Nige­ria, where the ex­trem­ist group Boko Haram staged a deadly sui­cide bomb at­tack on the U.N. head­quar­ters in Abuja last month in its “first known lethal op­er­a­tion against West­ern­ers.”

Tes­ti­fy­ing for the first time since tak­ing over at the CIA last week, Mr. Pe­traeus said the chang­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween al Qaeda and its af­fil­i­ates might make small-scale at­tacks more likely.

“De­spite be­ing less able to co­or­di­nate large-scale at­tacks, al Qaeda and its sym­pa­thiz­ers do con­tinue to train and de­ploy op­er­a­tives in small numbers for over­seas plots . . . rel­a­tively small at­tacks that would none­the­less gen­er­ate fear and cre­ate the need for costly se­cu­rity im­prove­ments,” he said.

Mr. Pe­traeus noted that “one of al Qaeda’s goals is to force the U.S. and our al­lies to adopt additional, ex­pen­sive se­cu­rity safe­guards that would fur­ther bur­den our economies.”

In al Qaeda’s home­land on the moun­tain­ous and re­mote Afghanistan-Pak­istan bor­der, how­ever, there is a “win­dow of vul­ner­a­bil­ity” for the core or­ga­ni­za­tion, af­ter the killing of Osama bin Laden and two other top lead­ers this year and the ar­rest of one of the group’s mil­i­tary com­man­ders in Pak­istan two weeks ago, Mr. Pe­traeus said.

“These set­backs have shaken al Qaeda’s sense of se­cu­rity in Pak­istan’s tribal ar­eas,” he said.

Mr. Pe­traeus also noted that the once-lethal al Qaeda af­fil­i­ate in South­east Asia, Je­maah Is­lamiyah, had been dec­i­mated over the past 10 years.

Its lead­ers have been killed or im­pris­oned, and the group now “is largely fo­cused on re­build­ing,” he said. Je­maah Is­lamiyah was re­spon­si­ble for the Bali bomb­ings in 2002 and 2005.

Although the cam­paign against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pak­istan will con­tinue with “en­ergy, fo­cus, cre­ativ­ity and ded­i­ca­tion for quite a while,” Mr. Pe­traeus said, op­er­a­tions against

“De­spite be­ing less able to co­or­di­nate large-scale at­tacks, al Qaeda and its sym­pa­thiz­ers do con­tinue to train and de­ploy op­er­a­tives in small numbers for over­seas plots . . . rel­a­tively small at­tacks that would none­the­less gen­er­ate fear and cre­ate the need for costly se­cu­rity im­prove­ments. One of al Qaeda’s goals is to force the U.S. and our al­lies to adopt additional, ex­pen­sive se­cu­rity safe­guards that would fur­ther bur­den our economies.”

its af­fil­i­ates else­where would rely on the co­op­er­a­tion of U.S. al­lies.

“Work­ing with our lo­cal part­ners to co­op­er­ate against these af­fil­i­ates will con­tinue to be cru­cial to the suc­cess of our over­all ef­forts,” he said.

James Clap­per, di­rec­tor of national in­tel­li­gence (DNI), raised what he called “the in­evitabil­ity of bud­get cuts in the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity,” re­fer­ring to the sprawl­ing col­lec­tion of 16 agen­cies of which he is the tit­u­lar head.

“I don’t want any­one to be un­der the mis­taken im­pres­sion that we are go­ing to sus­tain all the [in­tel­li­gence] ca­pa­bil­i­ties we have to­day, be­cause we’re not,” he said.

How­ever, he added, “every­thing we do in in­tel­li­gence is not of equal merit” and his job will be to set pri­or­i­ties.

“We have to be rather cold­hearted and ob­jec­tive about the real con­tri­bu­tion the var­i­ous sys­tems make,” he said. “So that’s kind of the ap­proach we’re go­ing to take.”

He called the process “a lit­mus test for this [DNI] of­fice, to pre­side over these in­evitable cuts that we’re go­ing to have to make.”

“I am rea­son­ably con­fi­dent that we can come through this with­out a great deal of harm,” he added.

Mr. Pe­traeus said the CIA in­spec­tor-gen­eral had be­gun an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the agency’s close co­op­er­a­tion with New York po­lice in un­der­cover op­er­a­tions in the city’s Mus­lim com­mu­nity af­ter the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

The op­er­a­tions in­volved sur­veil­lance at more than 250 mosques and Is­lamic stu­dent groups.

Mr. Pe­traeus told law­mak­ers that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion opened be­fore he took of­fice, at the re­quest of act­ing di­rec­tor Michael Morell.

The agency wants “to make sure we are do­ing the right thing,” he said.

The CIA is barred by pres­i­den­tial or­der from col­lect­ing in­tel­li­gence about Amer­i­cans.

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