Terrorist plots becoming harder to detect warns US
The West is facing "increased activity" from terrorist groups affiliated to al-Qaeda in plots which are becoming harder to detect, senior US counter-terrorism officials warned yesterday.
Janet Napolitano, the US Secretary for Homeland Security, warned that intelligence agents are now finding it more difficult to uncover plans for attacks putting countries at greater risk.
She said she planned to discuss the issue with her European counterparts, expected to include Theresa May, the Home Secretary, next week.
According to Mrs Napolitano: "The increasing number of terrorism sources, terrorist tactics, and terrorist targets make it more difficult for law enforcement or the intelligence community to detect and disrupt plots.
"The threats come from a broader array of groups and regions. It comes from a wider variety of harder-to-detect tactics. And it is aimed at harder-to-secure places than before."
Asked during a hearing of the at the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security about warnings in Europe, she added that the threat was "directed at the West generally."
Mrs Napolitano said there was a rising threat from homemade bombs as well as "attacks where small teams of operatives storm a facility using small arms" similar to the Mumbai attacks.
"Unlike large-scale, coordinated, catastrophic attacks, executing smaller-scale attacks requires less planning and fewer pre-operational steps. Accordingly, there are fewer opportunities to detect such an attack before it occurs," she said.
Her warning came as the French national police chief warned of a "peak threat" particularly from the North African group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Frederic Pechenard said that tip-offs from "friendly" intelligence services have put the country on high alert.
"I'm not here to frighten people," Mr Pechenard told Europe 1 radio, "but we have serious evidence coming from reliable intelligence sources telling us that there is a risk of a major attack."
Mr Pechenard said he feared two scenarios: the attempted assassination of a public figure or an attempted strike on a crowded public area like a metro train or department store.
In evidence submitted to the senate hearing, Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, warned that al-Qaeda's intent was "unwavering."
"Recent investigations reveal that the group has adapted its strategy for conducting attacks", he said, with "more emphasis on finding recruits or trainees from the West to play key roles."
Mr Mueller talked of a "growing threat to the West posed by al-Qaeda affiliates and allies" in Yemen and Somalia as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"By sharing financial resources, training, tactical and operational expertise, and recruits, these groups have been able to withstand significant counterterrorism pressure from United States, coalition, and local government forces," he said.
Meanwhile, he added "homegrown extremists are increasingly more savvy, harder to detect, and able to connect with other extremists overseas."
Michael Leiter, head of the National Counterterrorism Center, described a "spike in homegrown violent extremist activity."
About two dozen Americans have been arrested on terrorism charges since 2009, Mrs Napolitano said.