Washington: Al-Qaeda core's capability to conduct attacks might have been significantly diminished, but the network remains the ideological leader of the global extremist movement, a top intelligence official told US lawmakers on Wednesday.
Matthew Olsen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said at a Congressional hearing that the trend of homegrown violent extremists inspired by al Qaeda's ideology means the US faces a much more diverse threat today.
"Al-Qaeda core's capability to conduct attacks has been significantly diminished, weakened, but not vanquished. The group remains the ideological leader of the global extremist movement," he said.
"It continues to influence others through propaganda. Al-Qaeda's senior leadership has advanced several unsuccessful smaller-scale Western plots in the past two years and these plots highlight its ability to continue attack preparations while under sustained counterterrorism pressure, and just this past week we acted in response to unconfirmed intelligence of a possible threat that the group was planning attack in the United States," he said.
As such, the US remains concerned that al-Qaeda may be plotting to strike against it at home or overseas.
Further, since al-Qaeda's relocation to Pakistan, it has encouraged its militant allies to expand their operational agendas to include US and Western targets both within the region and overseas, Olsen said.
He said 10 years after 9/11, the US faces a much more diverse and diffused threat from groups affiliated to al-Qaeda, with these affiliates having increased the scope of their operations seeking to strike US and Western targets both inside and outside of their respective regions.
Pointing out that a key element of evolution of threat since 9/11 is the advent of homegrown violent extremists, he said: "These individuals are inspired by al-Qaeda's global extremist agenda. Over the past three years, we've seen an increase in violent extremist English content online".
"This has fostered greater cohesion among homegrown violent extremists. Plots disrupted during the past year appear to be unrelated operationally but may share a common cause, rallying independent extremists to attack the homeland," he added.
Olson said the narrative that drives homegrown extremists is a blend of al-Qaeda inspiration, perceived victimization and "a glorification of homeland plotting".
"HVEs who independently plan attacks with no direction inside the United States or overseas are difficult to detect and disrupt and could advance plotting with little or no warning," he said.