Al Qaeda Damaged, But Still Committed to U.S. Attacks
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 9, 2004 - Though al Qaeda's leadership structure has been seriously
damaged, the organization remains "as committed as ever to attacking the U.S.
homeland," the nation's top intelligence official said today on
Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet identified al Qaeda as the
biggest danger to the United States in his annual national security threat
assessment to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Though many of al Qaeda's top leaders have been killed or captured, Tenet
said, the organization still is capable of devastating attacks like those of
Sept. 11, 2001.
"Military and intelligence operations by the United States and its allies
overseas have degraded the group," he said. "Local al Qaeda cells are forced
to make their own decisions because of the central leadership's disarray."
Tenet said the operations have hurt al Qaeda. "Over the past 18 months," he
said, "we have killed or captured key al Qaeda leaders in every significant
operational area - logistics, planning, finance and training - and have eroded
the key pillars of the organization."
U.S. and allied military and intelligence efforts have prevented attacks
that otherwise would have taken place, he added, and have reduced al Qaeda's
operational safe havens. But despite "notable strides" these efforts have made
against the terror organization, Tenet said, al Qaeda has transformed into
a loose collection of more autonomous regional networks and still poses a significant
"Detainees consistently talk about the importance the group still attaches
to striking the main enemy, the United States," Tenet said. "Across the operational
spectrum - air, maritime, special weapons - we have time and again uncovered
plots that are chilling. On aircraft plots alone, we have uncovered new plans
to recruit pilots and to evade new security measures in Southeast Asia, the
Middle East and Europe." Catastrophic attacks like those of Sept. 11, 2001,
he added, remain within al Qaeda's reach.
Radical Muslim jihadists are growing in numbers and pose a similar threat,
Tenet pointed out. A spectacular attack against the U.S. homeland continues
to be "the brass ring" to which both terrorist organizations and jihadists
aspire, he said.
Tenet noted that acquiring chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear
weapons remains "a religious obligation" in the eyes of al Qaeda leader Osama
bin Laden. "And al Qaeda and more than two dozen terrorist groups are pursuing
CBRN materials," he added.
The threat of an attack using such weapons is one the intelligence community
takes very seriously, Tenet said. "Extremists have widely disseminated assembly
instructions for an improvised chemical weapon, using common materials, that
could cause a large number of casualties in crowded, enclosed areas." He called
al Qaeda's program to produce anthrax "one of the most immediate terrorist
CBRN threats we are likely to face."
The director emphasized, however, that al Qaeda is not the limit of the worldwide
terrorist threat. He said "a serious threat will remain for the foreseeable
future - with or without al Qaeda in the picture." This will happen through
spreading Osama bin Laden's anti-American sentiment via the wider Sunni extremist
movement and broad dissemination of al Qaeda's destructive expertise. Dozens
of groups exist within the al Qaeda-influenced movement, he said, and they
represent "the next wave of the terrorist threat."
Tenet said small, international Sunni extremist groups who have benefited
from al Qaeda links pose one of the most immediate threats. "They include groups
as diverse as the Zarqawi network and Ansar al-Islam in Iraq, the Libyan Islamic
Fighting Group and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan," he said. "These far-
flung groups increasingly set the agenda and are redefining the threat that
Though he expressed concern about former regime elements in Iraq joining
forces with foreign jihadists, Tenet told the senators there's "low" likelihood
those efforts would undermine the June 30 transfer of sovereignty in Iraq to
the Iraqi people. But he said he expects more violence as June 30 draws closer.
Tenet noted some Sunnis - the deposed ruling minority in Iraq -- have started
to work toward securing a legitimate stake in the country's new government. "Some
are beginning to recognize that boycotting the emerging political process will
weaken their community," he said. "Their political isolation may be breaking
down in parts of the Sunni Triangle, where some Sunni Arabs have begun to engage
the coalition and assume local leadership roles."
He cited national Sunni umbrella organizations that have formed over the
last three months to work with the coalition and the Iraqi Governing Council
as another encouraging sign.
Director of Central
Intelligence George J. Tenet
Related Web Sites:
Central Intelligence Agency
U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee
Related AFPS Articles:
Tenet Briefs Senate on Terror