Homeland Security chief warns of threat from al-Qaeda sympathizers in U.S.

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009 11:18 AM

Al-Qaeda followers are inside the United States and would like to attack targets here and in other countries, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday night.

The secretary's comments were her bluntest assessment yet of terror threats within the country, and they came one day after President Obama, in announcing his decision to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, warned that extremists have been "sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit more acts of terror."

Addressing the America-Israel Friendship League in New York, Napolitano said a string of recent domestic arrests should "remove any remaining comfort that some might have had from the notion that if we fight the terrorists abroad, we won't have to fight them here," rebutting an argument advanced on several occasions by President George W. Bush.

"The fact is that home-based terrorism is here. And like violent extremism abroad, it is now part of the threat picture that we must confront," Napolitano said. "Individuals sympathetic to al-Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as those inspired by their ideology, are present in the U.S., and would like to attack the homeland or plot overseas attacks against our interests abroad."

Napolitano cited the case of Najibullah Zazi, a Denver airport shuttle driver arrested in September after allegedly training with al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

Zazi allegedly tested homemade bombs, styled after those used in the 2004 Madrid transit bombings, before driving cross-country to New York from Denver. He faces charges of conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction.

Separately, U.S. prosecutors in October accused David C. Headley, a Chicago businessman, of conspiring with members of Lashkar-i-Taiba, an extremist Islamic group in Pakistan allied with al-Qaeda, to plot attacks in Denmark and India.

A U.S. counterterrorism official called Zazi "the first concrete case" since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks of al-Qaeda sending operatives to prepare an attack inside the country. Although intelligence analysts had long identified such a threat, they had begun questioning their assumption, the official said. "The surprising thing is Zazi is the first," the official said, calling Zazi's contacts with core al-Qaeda leaders "at most one step removed."

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