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US Says Al-Qaida Still Greatest Threat to America

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The United States says the al-Qaida terrorist group remains the greatest threat to America and its allies and is currently using Pakistan to rebuild its capabilities and plan attacks on Western nations. The State Department released its annual report on global terrorism Thursday.

The State Department's Acting Coordinator of Counterterrorism, Ronald Schlicher, says since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States al-Qaida and its allies have moved from Afghanistan into remote areas of the Pakistani frontier.

"And they are using, of course, that mountainous terrain as a safe haven where they can hide, where they can train, where they can communicate with their followers, where they can plot attacks and where they can make plans to send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan," said Ronald Schlicher.

The global terrorism report says the Taliban and other insurgent groups and criminal gangs control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan and are a threat to regional stability.

Ambassador Schlicher says, although still very dangerous, al-Qaida in Iraq is diminishing and has experienced significant defections.

"It has lost key mobilization areas," he said. "It has suffered disruption of support, infrastructure and funding and it has been forced to change its targeting priorities in some instances. The number of suicide bombings in Iraq, which we find to be a key indicator of the operational capability of the group, those numbers fell significantly in 2008."

The report credits local populations in places like Baghdad and Anbar province for turning against militants and cooperating with the Iraqi government and coalition forces.

Schlicher says an emerging hot spot for terrorism is Somalia, which he describes as a significant challenge for the United States and its allies.

"The international community is increasingly focused on the many dangers that develop in the absence of a place without any effective government control, such as Somalia, where of course we see such problems as terrorism, piracy, narcotics trafficking, human rights abuses and the development of ideological extremism," said Schlicher.

The report accuses Iran of being the most significant state sponsor of terrorism.  

Schlicher says the Quds Force (a special unit of Iran's Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution) is supporting terrorist and Islamic militant groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

"The Quds Force is kind of an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and they are deeply involved in the really objectionable, terrorist activities in those places where Iran chooses to be active," he said. "The great area of concern, of course, is the Middle East itself."

The report says Iranian weapons transfers to the Taliban in Afghanistan are continuing to threaten Afghan and NATO troops and undermine stabilization efforts.

The terrorism report does note what it describes as significant achievements in the fight against extremists, including the capturing or killing of key terrorists in Pakistan, Iraq and Columbia.  

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