Congress warned that al-Qaida in Iraq is coming to America
By Brian Bennett
ASHINGTON (MCT) The terrorist organization that was once the scourge of the U.S. occupation in Iraq and likely is responsible for more than 100 deaths in the country over the past few days has set its sights on launching attacks inside the United States, intelligence officials said.
Al-Qaida in Iraq released a message earlier this week that threatened to strike at the "heart" of the United States, and several associates of al-Qaida in Iraq have been arrested in the United States and Canada over the past two years, said U.S. officials, a sign that the terrorist affiliate has tried to establish a network inside North America.
The arrests highlight "the potential threat posed to the United States" from al-Qaida in Iraq, said Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, during a hearing Wednesday held by the House Homeland Security Committee examining the current threat from terrorism to the United States.
But "there are networks and recruiting efforts in the U.S. and Canada," said Seth Jones, an expert on al-Qaida at the RAND Corp. and author of "Hunting in the Shadows: the Pursuit of al-Qaida since 9/11."
"You can say pretty categorically that al-Qaida in Iraq appears to be strengthening from where it was two years ago," said Jones, even as the organization's senior leaders in Pakistan have been killed.
The terrorist organization's affiliate in Iraq was pummeled more than five years ago by a coalition of Sunni tribal leaders in western Iraq and U.S. forces, but experts who study al-Qaida say that the organization in Iraq has begun to rebuild, energized in the past year by the violent uprising in Syria next door and an influx of cash from wealthy benefactors in the Persian Gulf.
On Sunday, the day before the latest wave of attacks, al-Qaida in Iraq released an audio recording to mark the beginning of the Ramadan fast. The message announced a new campaign of violence against the Iraqi government, praised Syria's uprising and made a call for new recruits to join the group. It also spoke directly to Americans.
"You will soon witness how attacks will resound in the heart of your land, because our war with you has now started," said a man that identified himself as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the pseudonym used by the head of al-Qaida in Iraq.
Attacking the U.S. is easier said than done, said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee and has been briefed on the threat to the U.S. from Iraq.
"But when you have the leader signaling that it is time to go on the offensive, there is a heightened sense of concern for law enforcement and intelligence agencies here in the U.S.," McCaul said.
Two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Kentucky in May of last year and charged with attempting to ship weapons from the U.S. to assist al-Qaida in Iraq. The fingerprint of one of the men had allegedly been found on a bomb that attacked a U.S. convoy in Iraq in 2005. Federal officials believe the two men had been trained to build roadside bombs from cordless telephones.
In January 2011, a Canadian man named Faruq Isa was arrested for allegedly recruiting fighters to launch attacks against American forces in Iraq. Isa is fighting extradition to the U.S. from Canada to face charges of conspiracy to kill Americans.
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