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Al Qaeda shifts to small strikes

world Updated: Sep 24, 2010 01:03 IST

Al Qaeda and its allies are likely to attempt small-scale, less sophisticated terrorist attacks in the US, Obama administration officials said on Wednesday, noting that it’s extremely difficult to detect such threats in advance.

“Unlike large-scale, coordinated attacks, executing smaller-scale attacks requires less planning and fewer pre-operational steps,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. “Accordingly, there are fewer opportunities to detect such an attack before it occurs.”

Experts puzzled over Al Qaeda’s unwillingness after the 9/11 attacks to use car bombs and small arms to conduct assaults. The group appeared fixated on orchestrating dramatic mass-casualty event, such as simultaneous downing of airliners.

Indeed, attacks inspired by Qaeda in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005 involved multiple bombings targeting mass-transit systems.

But the risk of a single-target bombing or an attack by a gunman has risen, officials say, with the rise of Al Qaeda-affiliated groups in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and with emergence of radicalised Americans inspired by the ideology of violent jihad.

“The impact of the attempted attacks during the past year suggests Al Qaeda, and its affiliates, will attempt to conduct smaller-scale attacks targeting the homeland but with greater frequency,” said Michael Leiter, a counterterrorism expert.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said it is troubling, and a challenge for investigators, that homegrown extremists have increasingly diverse backgrounds.

“Beyond the sheer number of disruptions and arrests that have come to light, homegrown extremists are increasingly more savvy, harder to detect and able to connect with other extremists overseas,” he said.

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