US: Homegrown terror threat spiking

2010-09-22 21:43

Washington - The US faces a "spike" in the threat from homegrown extremists who are inspired by al-Qaeda and are increasingly difficult to detect, top US officials said on Wednesday.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned senators that "a new and changing facet of the terrorist threat comes from homegrown terrorists, by which I mean US persons who are radicalised here and receive terrorist training either here or elsewhere."

She said that the threat "is evolving in several ways that make it more difficult for law enforcement or the intelligence community to detect and disrupt plots".

At the same senate hearing, Michael Leiter, head of the National Counter-terrorism Centre, described a "spike in homegrown violent extremist activity" that was enabled by extremist groups abroad using the internet.

Napolitano also confirmed that terror groups posed a heightened threat to Western countries, including Europe, citing stepped up "activity".

Asked about warnings in Europe of a growing danger, she said: "Suffice it to say, we are all seeing increased activity by a more diverse set of groups and a more diverse set of threats."

The West in general

The threat, which came mostly from Islamist networks, was "directed at the West generally," she said, adding that she would be discussing the issue with her European counterparts at a meeting next week.

Highlighting a surge in attempted attacks or plots by US nationals, top security officials cited the November shooting rampage last year at Fort Hood in Texas - blamed on a Muslim army officer - and the attempted bombing in May of New York's Time Square.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Robert Mueller said the al-Qaeda network had shifted the focus of its recruiting efforts since 2006 on US citizens or residents instead of volunteers from the Middle East or South Asia.

He said US authorities were concerned about radicalised Americans travelling abroad to link up with extremist groups or gain experience in war zones, including Somalia.

"In particular, Somalia has garnered the attention of many American extremists, as at least two dozen Americans have successfully made it there to train or fight over the past few years," Mueller told lawmakers.

In trying to explain why the homegrown threat was expanding, the head of the FBI said "it is possible more American extremists are feeling increasingly disenchanted with living in the US, or angry about US and Western foreign policy, making their decision to leave for extremist opportunities abroad all the more appealing."

Mueller added that an increase in English-language "propaganda" from militants also may have had an effect.