After averting potential tragedy when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed to detonate his underwear bomb this Christmas, intelligence chiefs say they’re almost certain that Al Qaeda will launch a major attack on the U.S. in the next three to six months.
“An attempted attack … is certain, I would say,” Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told a Senate hearing on terror threats.
Al Qaeda still wants to hit the U.S. with a massive assault, but drone strikes against its leadership in Pakistan’s tribal turf have hurt its ability to launch terror attacks on the scale of 9/11, which killed almost 3,000 people.
“Complex, multiple cell-based attacks could still occur, [but] we are making them very difficult to pull off,” Blair said.
“The biggest threat is not so much that we face an attack like 9/11. It is that Al Qaeda is adapting its methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said.
Blair also disclosed publicly for the first time that Al Qaeda has eyed destroying the D.C. Metro subway system.
One plot unfolded in the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound plane with 289 people aboard. The Senate Intelligence Committee fenced with FBI Director Robert Mueller and Blair about why alleged underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was read his Miranda rights instead of being treated as an enemy combatant.
Abdulmutallab, an Al Qaeda in Yemen recruit, then asked for a lawyer and clammed up instead of coughing up more intelligence.
But Blair said the Nigerian suspect is now talking again – which Mueller confirmed.
“We got good intelligence,” Blair said. “We’re gettin’ more.”
Another attack was averted last fall, when alleged “core” Al Qaeda operative Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant who went to high school in Queens, and at least two accomplices bought bomb-making materials.
Blair said the probe of Zazi in New York and Denver “has not yet revealed the intended target[s] of this alleged plot.”
New York City cops found multiple identical backpacks during searches of Queens apartments during the rush to stop a possible 9/11 anniversary attack – likely against the city.The Queens imam accused of tipping off Zazi that he was under investigation, meanwhile, is getting ready to cop a guilty plea. Ahmad Wais Afzali, a former informant for the NYPD Intelligence Division, faces up to eight years in prison for lying to FBI agents when they quizzed him about his alleged betrayal.
“We are hopeful of being able to resolve this short of a trial,” federal prosecutor Berit Berger said in Brooklyn Federal Court.
Defense lawyer Ron Kuby declined to discuss the specifics of the plea negotiations.
“There is such a thing as an offer you can’t refuse,” Kuby said.
Why they tell us this stuff, we have no clue. Is there anything that most of us can really do to prepare for a terror attack? It’s not exactly the kind of thing you can plan for.