The head of the National Counterterrorism Center told lawmakers this morning that the increasing ability of al Qaeda's affiliates and allies to support attacks against the United States "makes it more difficult to anticipate the precise nature of the next homeland attack and determine from where it might come."
In written testimony for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Michael Leiter gives an overview of the nature of the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland:
Regional affiliates and allies can compensate for the potentially decreased willingness of al-Qa‘ida in Pakistan -- the deadliest supplier of such training and guidance -- to accept and train new recruits. Additional attempts, even if unsuccessful, by al-Qa‘ida’s affiliates and allies to attack the US -- particularly attempts in the Homeland -- could attract the attention of more Western recruits, thereby increasing those groups’ threat to the Homeland. Even failed attacks, such as (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula)'s and (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan)'s attempts, further al-Qa‘ida’s goal of fomenting global jihad against the West and demonstrate that some affiliates and allies are embracing this vision. The impact of the attempted attacks during the past year suggests al-Qa‘ida, and its affiliates and allies, will attempt to conduct smaller-scale attacks targeting the Homeland but with greater frequency.
Today al-Qa‘ida in Pakistan is at one of its weakest points organizationally. We have restricted their freedom of movement and reduced their sense of security in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). However, the group has proven its resilience over time and remains a capable and determined enemy, harnessing most of its capabilities and resources on plotting attacks against the West. The threat to the Homeland is compounded by the ideologically similar but operationally distinct plotting against the US by al-Qa‘ida’s Pakistan-based allies, regional affiliates, and sympathizers worldwide, including radicalized US persons, who may not receive training, direction, or support from al-Qa‘ida senior leaders in the FATA but embrace al-Qa‘ida’s global violent extremist vision.
The spike in homegrown violent extremist activity during the past year is indicative of a common cause that rallies independent extremists to want to attack the Homeland. Key to this trend has been the development of a US-specific narrative that motivates individuals to violence. This narrative -- a blend of al-Qa‘ida inspiration, perceived victimization, and glorification of past plotting -- has become increasingly accessible through the Internet, and English-language websites are tailored to address the unique concerns of US-based extremists. However, radicalization among US-based extremists remains a very unique process based on each individual’s personal experiences and motivating factors.