America’s newest terrorist threat: Officials eye Somali extremist group Al-Shabaab.

Halkaan ka akhri

WASHINGTON – America’s top counterterror officials for the first time warned Thursday that they expect a Somali extremist group to emerge as a major new threat to the U.S. homeland.

The Al-Shabaab “youth movement” is stocked with dozens of Somali-Americans who have flocked to the lawless Horn of Africa country to fight the weak U.S.-backed transitional federal government.

“We remain vigilant that al-Shabaab may expand its focus from fighting to control Somalia to plotting to attack the (U.S.) homeland,” Director of National Intelligence Lt. Gen. James Clapper told a congressional hearing.

Clapper said al-Shabaab’s “cadre of Westerners includes American converts, some of whom have assumed leadership positions.”

At least one American, Adnan Shukrijumah, is now a senior operational commander in Al Qaeda as well.

Al-Shabaab – a favorite franchise of Osama Bin Laden which boasts of its long-standing ties to Al Qaeda – rose in prominence after a CIA-backed military offensive routed the radical Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu in 2006.

Thousands joined its ranks after militant leader Aden Hashi Farah Ayro’s killing by U.S. special operations forces two years later.

U.S. intelligence officials have told the Daily News that al-Shabaab would be Al Qaeda’s largest army if it becomes organized.

The Somali group also publicly aligns itself with Yemen’s Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which Clapper pegged as America’s greatest threat now.

“Absent more effective and sustained activities to disrupt them, some regional affiliates – particularly Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Shabaab in Somalia – probably will grow stronger,” Clapper told the House Intelligence Committee.

He said AQAP was “energized” by how close it came to taking down a jet over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 with a bomb hidden in Umar Abdulmutallab’s underwear.

In October, AQAP almost blew up FedEx and UPS cargo jets over the East coast, but the bombs were discovered after a Saudi intelligence tip.

AQAP and its leader, Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, are now seeking to use chemical and biological weapons, officials testified.

Bin Laden’s group in Pakistan “continues to be damaged” by a CIA drone onslaught, but still “aspires to spectacular attacks” against the West, Clapper said.

“Al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan remains committed to obtaining all kinds of weapons of mass destruction,” added National Counterterrorism Center director Michael Leiter, but “their ability to do so has been greatly diminished since 9/11.”

Clapper also revealed that the Al Qaeda-linked Pakistani group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba, has now joined the fight in neighboring Afghanistan and is “an increasing threat to U.S. forces.”

Source:  DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON

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