"Groups affiliated with al Qaeda are now actively targeting the United States and looking to use Americans or Westerners who are able to remain undetected by heightened security measures," FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee today. "It appears domestic extremism and radicalization appears to have become more pronounced based on the number of disruptions and incidents. Mueller appeared before the Senate committee along with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and National Counterterrorism Chief Michael Leiter.
With American success abroad, Secretary Napolitano warned that terrorist groups are working harder than ever to recruit "homegrown" extremists who can strike from within the United States. "Homegrown terrorists represent a new and changing facet of the terrorist threat." Napolitano said, "To be clear, by homegrown, I mean terrorist operatives who are U.S. persons, and who were radicalized in the United States."
According to the experts, a number of recent events point to an increase in al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations' recruitment efforts. Among the examples experts pointed out today were an uncovered plot to bomb the New York City subway system last September; the shooting attack at Ft. Hood by Army Maj. Nidal Hassan which killed 13; the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253; and the May 1 attempted bombing in Times Square.
These were not isolated incidents, the experts warned today. Over the past two years alone, over 60 Americans have been arrested or convicted on terrorism charges. In addition, the FBI believes the number of Americans willing to act on behalf of foreign terrorist groups is growing. One of the most powerful recruiting tools is the Internet, Leiter said.
"During the past year our nation has dealt with the most significant developments in the terrorist threat to the Homeland since 9/11," Leiter told the committee. "The attack threats are now more complex, and the diverse array of threats tests our ability to respond, and makes it difficult to predict where the next attack may come."
"A blend of al Qaeda inspiration, perceived victimization, and glorification of past plotting, has become increasingly accessible through the Internet, and English-language websites are tailored to address the unique concerns of US-based extremists."