American intelligence and law enforcement personnel are on heightened alert because of the potential threat from Islamic extremists carrying American passports. This is one of the many findings in a recent report on al Qaida issue by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The report, released Wednesday, provides a detailed overview of the evolution of al Qaida since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Despite finding that U.S. and allied operations have largely pushed al Qaida out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and crippled financial and popular support for the group around the world, the report cautions that the terrorist organization remains a threat to U.S. interests. Of note, the report highlights both the decentralized nature of al Qaida today and changes in recruitment tactics as causes for concern.
Although al Qaida has been hit hard by military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, new cells and allied groups have arisen in North Africa, Southeast Asia, Somalia and Yemen. As CIA Director Leon Panetta explained in 2009,
"Somalia is a failed state. Yemen is almost there. And our concern is that both could become safe havens for al Qaida."
Bearing this out is the recent establishment of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the organization that claimed credit for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253.
Just as troubling as the re-establishment of al Qaida in Yemen are the tactics of AQAP. As the report explains, AQAP is:
"an ambitious organization capable of using non-traditional recruits to launch attacks against American targets within the Middle East and beyond."
It is this second issue that should be of increasing concern to U.S. counterterrorism officials. Proving its adaptability, al Qaida is actively seeking to recruit American citizens to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States. Currently, at least three dozen Americans who were radicalized in U.S. prisons are residing in Yemen, with some of them having gone "off the radar" and suspected of having traveled to terrorist training camps.