The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee warned on the 15th anniversary of 9/11 that al-Qaeda is patiently “seeding people” and waiting for the right times to strike as ISIS grabs the terrorism headlines.
At a Pentagon memorial service Sunday, President Obama declared “we’ve dealt devastating blows to al-Qaeda.”
“We’ve delivered justice to Osama bin Laden. We’ve strengthened our homeland security. We’ve prevented attacks. We’ve saved lives,” Obama said. “…Groups like al-Qaeda, like ISIL, know that we will never be able — they will never be able to defeat a nation as great and as strong as America. So, instead, they’ve tried to terrorize in the hopes that they can stoke enough fear that we turn on each other and that we change who we are or how we live.”
Intel Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told CBS on Sunday that “the threat level is even higher” today than on 9/11, “because the radical Islamic problem, whether it’s ISIS or al-Qaeda, they continue to add followers.”
“So, even though ISIS is having problems controlling some territory within Syria and Iraq, they have spread globally now,” he said. “They have moved fighters into Europe, where our allies are having considerable problems. If you notice, on — just over the weekend, both the German government and the French government came out publicly and said that they are concerned about the numbers of fighters there in the country.”
“What al-Qaeda started on September 11, 2001, continues to metastasize. And I’m concerned that we’re not paying close enough attention to the growth of radical jihadism globally.”
Asked about the risk of homegrown jihadists deciding to join the jihad, Nunes noted that in recruiting “lone wolves” for operations “a lot of times they will get younger people, people that have issues, and they’re more susceptible to the radicalization over the Internet.”
“But I think there’s another problem, and that is that al-Qaeda is very, very good at seeding people and waiting. They’re very patient. So, if you notice, when ISIS kind of broke off of al-Qaeda, merged with some of the old Saddam Baathist loyalists to put this — what they call their caliphate together, al-Qaeda is much more patient,” the chairman continued.
“So, you know, [Ayman al-]Zawahri is still out there. He’s bin Laden’s number two. They’re spreading — they’re spreading globally very, very slowly. Zawahri came out also just in the last few days and issued a statement, a public statement.”
In that video geared toward the 9/11 anniversary, the al-Qaeda leader told the United States that “as long as your crimes continue, then the events of Sept. 11 will be repeated a thousand times, Allah permitting.”
Nunes predicted Zawahiri is “going to continue” those sorts of statements in their broader recruiting effort.
“So we just don’t know where these guys are hiding. And it’s hard to track them because of encryption now and the Internet,” he said. “It’s not as easy as it once was a decade ago.”
Asked what the U.S. has learned in the past 15 years, CIA Director John Brennan told CBS, “What we have learned is that these groups, whether it was al-Qaeda or ISIS, can cause much death and destruction as they pursue their mindless agenda.”
“And so what we have learned over the last 15 years is to make sure that we do everything possible as a nation to protect this great homeland and our people around the world as well from the scourge of terrorism,” Brennan said. “…We have learned a lot. We have done a lot. And that’s why, today, I believe that it’s much more difficult for these groups to carry out the type of attack that they did 15 years ago.”
The Central Intelligence chief argued that the CIA is “probably the most instrumental agency since 9/11 in degrading, dismantling al-Qaeda and making sure that that organization and now ISIS are unable to carry out attacks here in the homeland.”