Despite improved security, al Qaeda remains a threat

Sep 8, 2011 Issues: Counterterrorism

The Hill – By Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.)

As a nation, we have made tremendous progress securing our homeland in the 10 years since the horrific terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent Americans.

We have closer relationships today with many of our allies around the world than we did a decade ago. Within our own borders, thanks in part to the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, we see increased cooperation across federal law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community, which now better coordinate and share vital information about potential terror threats.

The security of our aviation system, used against us with devastating consequences 10 years ago, has improved dramatically. We have better and more detailed information on people and cargo that come into the country.

Legislation enacted in response to 9/11, primarily the Patriot Act, has provided our intelligence and law enforcement officials with critical new tools to monitor, track and capture or kill terrorists.

To his credit, President Obama has continued many of the anti-terror policies initiated and effectively executed by former President George W. Bush. Just four months ago, Obama’s gutsy decision to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound resulted in our most high-profile success to date, the killing of bin Laden.

Our progress over these 10 years has made our homeland more secure. It is much more difficult for al Qaeda and its affiliates to launch another successful 9/11-scale attack on our homeland from outside the country.

Now, the battle against al Qaeda and its affiliates has shifted, with them working to recruit and radicalize individuals from within the Muslim-American community.

At least 40 Muslim-Americans from Minneapolis and other U.S. cities have been recruited by the Somalia-based terror group al Shabaab and have disappeared to fight in Somalia.

In 2009, Afghan national Najibullah Zazi, a legal permanent resident in the United States, plotted to blow up the New York City subway system after spending time at a Pakistani terrorist training camp. That same year, U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan shot and killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, after receiving advice and inspiration from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Anwar al Awlaki.

Also in 2009, Carlos Bledsoe, who had converted to Islam and become affiliated with AQAP in Yemen, opened fire at a military recruiting center in Arkansas, killing a soldier.

Last year in New York’s Times Square, Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan, attempted to detonate a car bomb. And this summer, Naser Jason Abdo, a U.S. Army private, was arrested for planning another Fort Hood shooting, encouraged by AQAP’s magazine, Inspire. Sadly, the list goes on.

This radicalization within the Muslim-American community is a fact recognized by the Obama administration. Earlier this year, the president’s deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough, warned, “al Qaeda and its adherents have increasingly turned to … attempting to recruit and radicalize people to terrorism here in the United States … for the express purpose of trying to convince Muslim-Americans to reject their country and attack their fellow Americans.”

Attorney General Eric Holder has said that this radicalization keeps him awake at night.

The overwhelming majority of Muslim-Americans are outstanding citizens. But clearly, al Qaeda’s strategy of recruiting and radicalizing within the Muslim-American community is something that must be addressed. Yet, since I became chairman and convened a series of Homeland Security Committee hearings to examine this, radical groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) mindlessly and hysterically attacked the hearings, accusing me of engaging in some sort of Muslim witch hunt.

Unfortunately, most Democrats on my committee have joined in, demanding that I expand the scope of the hearings to examine white supremacists, neo-Nazis, environmental extremists and even urban gangs. What they always conveniently fail to mention is that during the four years that they were in charge of the committee, the Democrats never held a single hearing to examine any of the groups they now want me to investigate.

There simply is no equivalency between these groups and an international threat like al Qaeda, with its orchestrated recruitment and radicalization effort targeting the Muslim-American community and its goal of destroying the United States of America.

Prior to and since 9/11, al Qaeda has made its intentions abundantly clear for anyone willing to listen. Before 9/11, we ignored the threat, to our detriment. As long as I am chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, the threats will not be ignored. I will not back down and will continue to examine the real and dangerous threat of radicalization in the United States. American lives depend on it.

King is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.