"Al Qaeda is on its heels." Until recently, that's been one of the themes of President Obama's reelection campaign. New York Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, begs to differ. And it's not hard to see why.
Yes, Osama Bin Laden is dead and several Al Qaeda leaders, particularly in the tribal regions of Pakistan and in Yemen, have been killed via U.S. drone strikes. That's obviously a positive development, and I'm the last guy to shed a tear over a dead terrorist.
But the inability to capture at least some of these jihadists (better to just kill them than send them to that "awful" Gitmo and anger the Lefty base, or so the Obamis' thinking goes) deprives us of potentially crucial intelligence. And after all, to gain that intelligence may very well require enhanced interrogation techniques ("torture" in Obamaspeak). Perish the thought! Hence, the Obama policy of drone strikes for one and all.
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The truth is, Congressman King is right on point. Al Qaeda now covers more geographical ground than it did on 9/11: including Pakistan/Afghanstan, Yemen, Iraq (where AQ is now resurgent) Sinai (thanks largely to the Obama-supported overthrow of the Mubarak regime), Somalia, North Africa (in the form of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Nigeria (and its AQ-linked Boko Haram) Europe and yes, Libya.
No greater proof exists that Al Qaeda is alive and kicking than the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last month--almost certainly carried out by an apparent Al Qaeda offshoot called Ansar al-Sharia.
Africa, with its weak, corrupt central governments and chronic instability, is a particularly troubling hotspot. There seems to be an arc forming across the upper half of the continent, from Somali to Yemen on down to Mali and Nigeria.
But Al Qaeda has not only shifted geographically; it's also shifted tactically. As I describe in Chapter 2 of my book, The Terrorist Next Door, we're more likely to see more Fort Hoods, Mumbai massacres or Benghazi assaults than we are another 9/11-style attack, at least in the short term--although Al Qaeda is unquestionably working diligently to come up with a way to top their greatest triumph.
In addition, there is also the problem of self starters: individuals--who may or may not be connected to Al Qaeda--adhering to the terror group's ideology and seeking to carry out a one-man (or woman) jihad in the West. Bottom line; Al Qaeda and its offshoots and admirers are anything but on their heels.
We saw the latest example today in New York City. From Fox News:
Federal authorities arrested a Bangladeshi national Wednesday morning for allegedly plotting to blow up a Federal Reserve Bank in New York City's lower Manhattan, mere blocks away from the site of the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. The bank is one of 12 branches around the country.
The 21-year-old suspect, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, attempted to detonate what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb in front of the Fed building on Liberty Street, but the device was a fake supplied to him by undercover FBI agents who had been tracking his activity, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force said Wednesday afternoon.
The supposed explosives posed no threat to the public, the FBI said.
A criminal complaint accuses Nafis of having overseas connections to Al Qaeda and travelling to the U.S. in January to recruit individuals to form a terrorist cell and conduct an attack on American soil. He came under the guise of going to school in Missouri on a student visa. One of Nafis' potential recruits was an FBI source, who alerted authorities, the FBI said.
A federal law enforcement official told Fox News that there was no evidence Nafis was directed by Al Qaeda to carry out this attack, though he appears to have thought he was working for the terrorist group.
At one point, according to criminal complaint, Nafis told undercover agents: "I don't want something that's like, small. I just want something big. Something very big ... that will shake the whole country, that will make America, not one step ahead, change of policy, and make one step ahead, for the Muslims ... that will make us one step closer to run the whole world."
A U.S. official told Fox News that President Obama was Nafis' first target, but the criminal complaint only refers to "a high-ranking official." The complaint also mentions the New York Stock Exchange as a proposed target.
The FBI cites a written statement obtained from Nafis in which he said he wanted to "destroy America" and determined that the best way to achieve that goal was to target the economy. He also referenced quotes from "our beloved Sheikh Osama bin Laden."
Two obvious questions: was Nafis indeed connected in some way to the supposedly "on its heels" Al Qaeda? And how was he able to hoodwink authorities and obtain a visa to enter the country? Perhaps President Obama can enlighten us with some answers during his debate on foreign policy with Mitt Romney next Monday night. I won't hold my breath.