WASHINGTON – The Obama administration said Thursday that al-Qaida's core membership in Pakistan, along with affiliates in Africa and Yemen, poses the most dangerous terrorist threat to the United States and its interests abroad.
In its annual report on global terrorism, the State Department said that although al-Qaida suffered some setbacks in Pakistan last year, it is "adaptable and resilient" and has expanded its reach through proxy groups.
The report for 2009 also said the terrorist network remains "actively engaged in operational plotting" of attacks against U.S. and Western targets around the world.
As in previous years, the report identified Iran as the most active "state sponsor of terrorism" and said its backing of militant groups in the Middle East and Central Asia played a highly destabilizing role in those regions. The report also left unchanged "state sponsor" designations for Cuba, Sudan and Syria.
It also found that an increase in terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan triggered a spike in the number of civilians killed or wounded there last year, pushing South Asia past the Middle East as the top terror region in the world. Those statistics are contained in an annex to the report first published in late April.
On al-Qaida in Pakistan, the report said the group is "the most formidable terrorist organization" targeting the U.S. homeland and "has proven to be an adaptable and resilient terrorist group whose desire to attack the United States and U.S. interests abroad remains strong."
It said the organization was "was actively engaged in operational plotting against the United States and continued recruiting, training, and deploying operatives, including individuals from Western Europe and North America."
Although the Pakistani government has taken some steps to rein in the group, al-Qaida's losses have been at least "partially offset" by partnerships, shared connections and objectives with groups such as the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa-based al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Somalia-based al-Shabab, the report said.
The State Department noted with concern that al-Qaida, particularly in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, appeared to be attracting growing numbers of radicalized Americans to its cause. Underscoring that concern, the Justice Department on Thursday announced indictments against a number of U.S. citizens for supporting al-Shabab.
"The assumption that Americans have some special immunity to al-Qaida's ideology (has been) dispelled," said Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator.
In 2009, five Americans were arrested on terrorism charges in Pakistan, while the Yemeni group was held responsible for the attempted Dec. 25 bombing of a U.S. jetliner as it landed in Detroit, he noted.
U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a spiritual leader believed to be in Yemen, had links with both the failed bombing and the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting suspect, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.
Awlaki "has catalyzed a pool of potential recruits that others have failed to reach," Benjamin said. "We should make no mistake about the nature of Awlaki. This is not just an ideologue but someone at the heart of a group plotting terrorist acts against Americans."