The United States still faces threats from Al Qaeda but must also focus on less well-known terrorist groups, as well as homegrown terrorists, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller said on Monday.
While the primary threat continues to come from the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, “we are seeing persistent activity elsewhere, from the Maghreb and the Sahel to Yemen,” he said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mueller identified another pattern that worries the FBI. “Over the years since September 11, we have learned of young men from communities in the United States, radicalised and recruited here to travel to couentries such as Afghanistan or Iraq, Yemen or Somalia. They may be recruited to participate in the fighting, or, in the extreme case, to become suicide bombers,” he said.
“A man from Minneapolis became what we believe to be the first US citizen to carry out a terrorist suicide bombing. The attack occurred last October in northern Somalia.” The man, Shirwa Ahmed, had emigrated with his family from Somalia in the mid-1990s.
It is a perversion of the immigrant story, Mueller said.
Another question is whether a Mumbai-type attack can happen in Seattle or San Diego. Mumbai, Mueller said, “reminds us that terrorists with large agendas and little money can use rudimentary weapons to maximise their impact.”
For the first time, Mueller offered details of the role the FBI played in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks. Special Agent Steve Merrill, a legal attache in the FBI’s New Delhi office, was headed to Jodhpur to play cricket on the U.S. embassy team but immediately made his way to Mumbai, Mueller said. “All he had were the clothes on his back, his Blackberry and his cricket gear.
“He immediately made contact with his Indian counterparts and got to work. No red tape, no turf battles—just first responders, standing shoulder to shoulder in a time of crisis.”
Merrill helped rescue Americans trapped inside the Taj Hotel and set up lines of communication with the FBI and his intelligence counterparts, Mueller said. “Even before the crisis ended, the investigation had begun. Agents from FBI offices in New Delhi and Islamabad joined forces with the Indian government, the CIA, the State Department, MI-6 (Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service) and New Scotland Yard.”