Al-Qa'ida will launch attack on US 'within months'
Al-Qa'ida will launch an attack on America in the next three to six months, intelligence chiefs told the US Congress last night.
The organisation was deploying operatives to the US to carry out attacks, including "clean" recruits with no trail of terrorist contacts, CIA director Leon Panetta said.
Al-Qa'ida is also inspiring homegrown extremists to trigger violence on their own, Mr Panetta said.
The annual assessment of America's terror threats provided no startling new terror trends, but increased growing concerns since the attempted airline attack in Detroit that militants are growing harder to detect and moving more quickly in their plots.
"The biggest threat is not so much that we face an attack like 9/11.
"It is that al-Qa'ida is adapting its methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect," Mr Panetta told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Several senators clashed over whether suspected terrorists should be tried in civilian or military court. At the same time, a group of bi-partisan politicians introduced legislation that would force the Obama administration to backtrack on its plans to try 9/11 defendants in federal court in New York and use military tribunals instead.
Mr Panetta said as al-Qa'ida planned new terror plots, it was increasingly relying on new recruits who had been given minimal training and simple devices to carry out attacks and also warned of the danger of extremists acting alone. "It's the lone-wolf strategy that I think we have to pay attention to as the main threat to this country," he said.
The hearing comes just over a month since the failed attempt to bring down a passenger plane in Detroit by Nigerian Abdulmutullab, a former London student.
And the assessment came only a few months after US army major Nidal Hassan was accused of an attack on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, which killed 13.
National intelligence director Dennis Blair said thanks to changes made since the December 25 attack, US intelligence would be able to identify and stop someone like the Detroit bomber before he got on the plane.
But he warned a more careful and skilled would-be terrorist might not be detected.
FBI director Robert Mueller defended the bureau's handling of the Detroit attack.
Mr Mueller said that in "case after case" terrorists had provided actionable intelligence, even after they were given their rights and charged with crimes, because they knew such co-operation could mean shorter sentences.