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Al Qaeda may attack during US election season: official

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : A top US counter-terrorism official has warned of a heightened risk of an Al Qaeda attack during the upcoming US election season with the terrorist outfit exploiting recent political turmoil in Pakistan to strengthen its sanctuary there.

While intelligence officials are unaware of specific plans for attacks inside the US, they expect an increase in threats in the run-up to US elections, Ted Gistaro, the national intelligence officer for trans-national threats, has claimed in an assessment.

But although Al Qaeda may use the election as an excuse for an attack, there is no evidence that Osama bin Laden hopes to tilt the race in favour of either of the two major presidential candidates, Gistaro, an Al Qaeda expert, said in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Tuesday.

To bin Laden, “there is no difference between Democratic and Republican candidates,” since, to him, both are backed by global corporations whose values Al Qaeda opposes, he was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.

The official said despite the loss of key leaders to US strikes, bin Laden continues to enjoy a haven along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and has managed to deepen alliances with a wide range of Islamist groups from South Asia to the Middle East.

With the help of such allies, Al Qaeda is seeking to position terrorist operatives in the US and other Western countries, he said. “We assess that Al Qaeda’s intent to attack the US homeland remains undiminished.”

Gistaro is the principal author of a National Intelligence Estimate report last August that described a resurgent Al Qaeda rebuilding its network inside the autonomous tribal lands in Pakistan’s northwestern frontier. Such estimates represent the consensus view of US intelligence agencies.

In the year since the report’s release, bin Laden has been dealt numerous setbacks, particularly in Iraq, where Al Qaeda’s local affiliates suffered repeated military losses as well as declining popular support.

But in Pakistan, Al Qaeda’s position is stronger than ever, as its Taliban allies have undermined local government forces to extend its control over the region, Gistaro said.

Al Qaeda “now has many of the operational and organisational advantages it once enjoyed across the border in Afghanistan” before the US-led invasion of that country seven years ago, Gistaro said.

The group’s relative freedom has allowed it to train a new generation of recruits, including mid-level lieutenants who are moving through the ranks to replace killed or captured veterans, he said.

Bin Laden appears particularly interested, Gistaro added, in finding recruits of Western origin who possess travel documents and language skills that allow them easy access to Europe and the US.