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FBI Director Warns of Terror Attacks on U.S. Cities

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 23, 2009 3:19 PM

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III today warned that extremists "with large agendas and little money can use rudimentary weapons" to sow terror, raising the specter that recent attacks in Mumbai that killed 170 people last year could embolden terrorists seeking to attack U.S. cities.

At a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Mueller said that the bureau is expanding its focus beyond al-Qaeda and into splinter groups, radicals who try to enter the country through the visa waiver program and "home-grown terrorists."

"The universe of crime and terrorism stretches out infinitely before us, and we too are working to find what we believe to be out there but cannot always see," Mueller said.

One particular concern, the FBI director said, springs from the country's background as a "nation of immigrants." Federal officials worry about pockets of possible radicals among melting-pot communities in the United States such as Seattle, San Diego, Miami or New York.

A Joint Terrorism Task Force led by the FBI, for instance, continues to investigate a group in Minneapolis after one young man last fall flew to Somalia and became what authorities believe to be the first U.S. citizen to carry out a suicide bombing. As many as a half-dozen other youths from that community in Minnesota have vanished, alarming their parents and raising concerns among law enforcement officials that a dangerous recruiting network has operated under the radar.

"The prospect of young men, indoctrinated and radicalized in their own communities . . . is a perversion of the immigrant story," Mueller said.

For the first time, Mueller also disclosed details about FBI efforts to assist Indian authorities probing a November siege by conspirators with ties to a terrorist group in Pakistan. FBI Special Agent Steve Merrill, a legal attache posted to the bureau's office in New Delhi, had been preparing to play cricket for the American team competing at the Maharajah's annual tournament, the FBI director recalled.

Instead Merrill detoured to Mumbai, where he helped to rescue Americans trapped in the burning Taj Hotel and coordinated the arrival of the bureau's rapid deployment team.

Analysts and agents from the FBI ultimately conducted 60 interviews including one of the lone surviving attacker, Ajmal Amir Kasab. Forensics experts pulled fingerprints from improvised explosive devices and recovered data from damaged cellphones, once "literally wiring a smashed phone back together," Mueller said.

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