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Homeland Security Chief Warns: US Terror Threat 'Most Heightened' Since 9/11

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Just one day after the House of Representatives voted down extending provisions of the Patriot Act, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned that radicalized U.S. residents willing to carry out attacks on American soil with "little or no warning" have created one of the biggest terrorist threats in nearly a decade.

“The terrorist threat to the homeland is in many ways at its most heightened state since 9/11,” Napolitano told a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee in Washington Wednesday.

According to the DHS chief, terrorist groups such as al Qaeda are working more and more to recruit Westerners -- specifically those with ties to the U.S. and Europe -- to carry out targeted attacks. One such example of these recruits is Pakistani immigrant Faisal Shahzad who tried to detonate a car bomb in New York's Times Square last May, she said.

In her testimony, Napolitano cited a December national intelligence report that said 50 of 88 people involved in 32 high-profile terrorist plots related to al-Qaeda since Sept. 11 have been U.S. citizens.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., called the hearing to explore the threat of Islamic radicalization. “We must confront this threat explicitly and directly,” King said. The New York congressman said he also plans to hold a hearing next month to discuss the radicalization of U.S. Muslims.

Additionally, Secretary Napolitano was pressed to answer questions related to domestic airport security. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., told Napolitano that a North Carolina teenager's ability to stow away in the wheel well of a commercial airliner raised "enormous concerns about aviation safety" in the United States.

Napolitano acknowledged the incident revealed a "breakdown" in security and said the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was investigating.

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