WASHINGTON: US counterterrorism agencies have not detected a significant al-Qaida operational capability in the United States since the 2003 arrest of an Ohio truck driver who was in the early stages of plotting to destroy New York City's Brooklyn Bridge.
Nevertheless, al-Qaida's capabilities aren't clear and the group remains a viable and dangerous threat, said Kevin Brock, the new deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Centre.
The uncertainty shows the tension increasingly facing national security officials as they pursue terrorists, even as the country has gone four years without a domestic attack from Osama bin Laden's terror network.
Brock was the FBI's special agent in charge of the Cincinnati office that investigated Iyman Faris, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for aiding and abetting terrorism and conspiracy. Faris, a Pakistani by birth who became a US citizen in 1999, was trying to determine whether he could ruin the Brooklyn Bridge by cutting the suspension cables.
Brock said the case showed him al-Qaida's weakened state after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Faris did not strike Brock as someone who could carry out a sophisticated plot, even though he had been chosen by a top al-Qaida leader now in custody, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, to handle complicated operations.
"Since the Iyman Faris case and other investigations, the FBI and other agencies are just not detecting an operational capability by the al-Qaida organization in the United States of imminent significance."
Yet Brock and other senior officials say now is not the time to relax counter-terror efforts because authorities don't know al-Qaida's capabilities for certain.
Source: China Daily 12/08/2005 page7