Al-Qaida's core in Pakistan has become weaker, while al-Qaida franchises have grown stronger, a new government report finds.
The 2010 State Department Country Report on Terrorism released Thursday highlights growing dangers from the Yemeni-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Shabaab, a Somali Islamist group which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaida.
The report notes the groups' abilities to hatch terrorist plots outside of their stomping grounds. AQAP was behind the December 2009 failed attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner and a 2010 plot to destroy several U.S.-bound cargo planes. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the 2010 twin suicide bombings that killed 76 at the World Cup in Uganda.
AQAP, the report said, has taken on "a great share of the propaganda work," with the launch of the glossy English-language magazine Inspire.
Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terrorist group's Algerian-based North African affiliate did not represent a serious threat to the United States in 2010, the report said.
Al-Qaida "remained the preeminent terrorist threat to the United States in 2010," it concluded. The group "developed stronger relationships with its affiliates in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe in 2010."
Much of the 2010 report's findings remain true in 2011. Witnesses at a recent House hearing said that al-Shabaab poses a "direct threat" to the United States and AQAP has been identified as the most dangerous al-Qaida branch by officials. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in March called AQAP "the most active and at this point perhaps the most aggressive branch of al-Qaida."
But 2011 may also mark the beginning of al-Qaida cells metastasizing in countries experiencing Arab Spring unrest.
Recent reports indicate the creation of another al-Qaida branch in Egypt. A statement from a group claiming to be the newest al-Qaida branch was posted online earlier this month. In March, a Libyan rebel commander admitted that his fighters included some al-Qaida militants who had fought in Iraq.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that "lone wolf" extremists are a greater threat than a well-coordinated attack. Al-Qaida is a "much weaker organization with much less capability than they had just two or three years ago," he added.