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Al-Qaeda Still Top Terror Threat

Photo: ABC News
Photo: ABC News

In its 2009 terrorism report, released last Thursday, the State Department said al-Qaeda’s core membership in Pakistan is “the most formidable terrorist organization targeting the U.S. homeland.”  Despite “significant setbacks” in 2009, al-Qaeda “has proven to be an adaptable and resilient terrorist group” and is “actively engaged in operational plotting against the United States.”

Additionally, the report noted the increase in al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist activity in Yemen and Africa. “The attempted December 25 bombing provided a further reminder that un- or under-governed spaces can serve as an incubator for extremism and underscored that we cannot expect al-Qaeda affiliates to be focused solely on the near enemy – the governments in their own countries and regions – or American facilities in their immediate surroundings.”

Once again, Iran is in the report as the “foremost state sponsor of terrorism, supporting Hizballah, HAMAS, and other rejectionist Palestinian groups as proxies for their own interests in the Arab world.”  Other state sponsors of terrorism include Cuba, Sudan and Syria, all of whom appeared on last year’s list.

One interesting technological trend noted in the report is the increasing interest in cyber terrorism across the board.  While terrorist attempts to launch cyber attacks against the U.S. have thus far been unsuccessful, “terrorists have used cyber means to transfer funds, but international action has made significant progress towards addressing this illicit activity.”

Most major terrorist groups use the internet to disseminate propaganda and coordinate efforts internationally via websites and discussion forums.  “Al-Qaeda continued its efforts to encourage key regional affiliates and jihadist networks to pursue a global agenda, using both the Internet as a means to distribute propaganda and telecommunications infrastructure to plan attacks and coordinate movements. Going forward, this will be an area of continued focus for the United States.”

Since al-Qaeda continues to actively plan attacks against the United States and cyber terrorism is a major area of interest for terrorist groups, cyber security should be a strong growth area in counter terrorism.  While the federally administrated tribal areas (FATA) in Pakistan, al-Qaeda’s home turf, doesn’t have much of an information technology industry infrastructure, a key part of al-Qaeda’s strategy is “recruiting, training, and deploying operatives, including individuals from Western Europe and North America.”

Also, the Taliban, al-Qaeda’s ally, has used off-the-shelf porn de-scrambling software to intercept feeds from unmanned surveillance vehicles and a Taliban-affiliated website was hacked in June, so fighting has already broken out on the cyber front, and if past conflicts are any indicator, the battle is only going to heat up in the future.

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