By Barbara Starr
U.S. officials believe extremists across northern Africa, emboldened by the terror attack on a natural gas plant in Algeria, are growing more daring.
A senior American intelligence official tells CNN that "what we have seen is intelligence suggesting a desire to carry out more attacks" against western and U.S. interests in the region.
The United States is not aware of any specific threats, the official said.
But one of those believed to be plotting is Moktar Belmoktar, a veteran militant who has claimed responsibility for the attack this month on the BP facility in eastern Algeria that left at least 37 hostages dead.
By Matt Smith
When the Senate Armed Services Committee is gaveled into session Thursday, Chuck Hagel is likely to face some sharp questions from many of his old colleagues.
If confirmed as secretary of defense, the one-time infantry sergeant and twice-wounded Vietnam veteran would be the first former enlisted man to lead the Pentagon. The former Republican senator from Nebraska gets his chance to answer questions Thursday morning during his confirmation hearing, and here are five subjects where he can expect them.FULL STORY
By Jessica Yellin and Adam Aigner-Treworgy
When former Sen. Chuck Hagel appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, don’t expect him to dwell on controversial statements from his past. Instead, allies say, he’ll focus on the present.
He will testify that if confirmed to be the next Secretary of Defense, he will be fully supportive of the president’s policies, including a preference for diplomacy but a willingness to use force, an Obama administration official working on the senator’s confirmation hearing told CNN.
Hagel has been slammed for his past opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran, and critics have questioned his support for Israel. This official says Hagel will testify Thursday morning that he believes Iran is a state sponsor of terror; he supports the president’s sanctions strategy against Iran and believes all options should be on the table including the military option. He’ll also testify that it’s his view that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.FULL STORY
By Paul Cruickshank
The deadly attack on the In Amenas gas facility in southern Algeria could herald a power struggle within al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which is fast becoming one of the most dangerous branches of the organization.
The attack was claimed by veteran Algerian jihadist Moktar Belmoktar, who last year was forced out of AQIM's leadership by its emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel. Their rivalry has been aggravated by geographic distance, disagreement over jihadist doctrine, and - above all - personal ambition. At one point, Droukdel tried to have Belmoktar assassinated, a former jihadist from the region told CNN.
The rift between them not only led Belmoktar to mastermind one of the most serious terrorist attacks in North Africa in years, but may also dictate the future course of jihad in the region, the sources say.
In September, Droukdel "fired" Belmoktar from the AQIM leadership, and he responded by setting up what one of his close associates described as a new trans-Saharan franchise of al Qaeda. Nearly all the men under his command were said to have followed Belmoktar out of AQIM.
In December, Belmoktar announced the formation of a new commando unit called "We Sign with Blood," and he promised attacks against Western interests in the region and the home soil of Western countries if an operation was launched against jihadists in northern Mali.
The name of the new commando unit was first used by a unit of an Algerian militant outfit that hijacked a French airliner in 1994, according to Camille Tawil, a Lebanese expert on al Qaeda. FULL POST
By Barbara Starr and Elise Labott
The United States believes North Korea is ready "at any time" to conduct a nuclear test, American officials tell CNN.
"We think they are preparing for a test," one U.S. official told CNN Wednesday. "We are watching it all as closely as we can."
U.S. officials say they are bracing for a third test by Pyongyang "soon," although they caution it's near impossible to predict the timing.
"One thing for sure," a senior official told CNN. "They will definitely test a nuclear weapon. But the tricky thing is, nobody can tell you for your day planner that is when it will be."
One official explained the United States is not certain about the timing of a test because it would happen underground and the final preparations can't be observed by satellite.
By Jamie Crawford
As the political turmoil in Egypt continues, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she's concerned about an Egyptian military official's assertion that the current situation could lead to the collapse of the Egyptian state.
"I think that would lead to incredible chaos and violence on a scale that would be devastating for Egypt and the region," Clinton said in a CNN interview Tuesday at the State Department. "There has to be some understanding by the new government that the aspirations that the people were expressing during the revolution in Egypt have to be taken seriously. And it - it cannot in any way be overlooked that there is a large number of Egyptians who are not satisfied with the direction of the economy and the political reform."
Thousands of anti-government protesters have clashed with police and troops in three Egyptian cities, and defied President Mohamed Morsy's curfew orders. Demonstrators are upset with recent political moves by Morsy, and charge that the country's first democratically elected president is a throwback to former dictatorships.
Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt's defense minister, warned Tuesday that continued instability could have grave consequences.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she can't be faulted for not solving some of the thorny diplomatic issues she faced her in term.
In her final week of Secretary of State, Clinton defended her legacy in an exit interview with CNN's Jill Dougherty and Elise Labott.
Clinton acknowledged that her legacy includes unsolved problems in some of the world's hot spots, but noted that she assumed the job four years ago at a time of great uncertainty.
"I think we have to go back to my beginning in January '09 to remember how poorly perceived the United States was, how badly damaged our reputation was, how our leadership was in question, how the economic crisis had really shaken people's confidence in our government, our economic system, our country.
Clinton said she had sought initially simply to restore international confidence in American leadership, "sometimes against pretty tough odds," which included a crisis in the world's economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The challenges went on to include responding to the Arab Spring, forming international coalitions to inflict sanctions on Iran and North Korea and dealing with changes in Burma, Europe, Latin America and Africa. FULL POST
By Kevin Voigt, CNN
North Korea's intention to carry out a new nuclear test, coming on the heels of December's successful satellite launch, suggests that Pyongyang is moving forward toward developing a nuclear warhead and a deliverable missile system, experts say. The question remains: How close are they?
The answer, like the cloistered "hermit kingdom," remains largely a mystery as does much of its nuclear program.
"It's a question over the delivery system and the reliability of those systems," said Daniel Pinkston, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group covering Northeast Asia. "That is essentially unknown, or known by a few people inside North Korea."FULL STORY
By Jamie Crawford and Chris Lawrence
The United States has signed a deal with the central African nation of Niger to host American troops and surveillance drones to keep tabs on Islamic militants in the region, officials from those countries said Tuesday.
Niger is next door to Mali, where France joined the fight against Islamic rebels earlier this month
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the role of U.S. troops in Niger "has not yet been defined" - but Niger's ambassador to the United States, Maman Sidikou, told CNN that his government has agreed to let U.S. drones operate from its territory.
Sidikou says his understanding of the agreement is the drones will be unarmed and used for surveillance to monitor extremist movements. He refused to discuss where in the country the drones would be based or when they will be operational.
Niger lies to the east of Mali, where French troops and warplanes are fighting alongside government troops to push back Islamist fighters who seized much of the former French colony in 2012.
The rebels took advantage of the chaos that followed a revolt by Touareg separatists and a military coup, and banned music, smoking, drinking and watching televised sports in the territories under their control. FULL POST
By Elise Labott
The State Department has reassigned the special envoy dealing with closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and has no plans to replace him, two senior State Department officials tell CNN.
Daniel Fried's office has been closed and his duties will now be handled by the State Department's legal adviser's office, according to a State Department internal announcement.
The decision leaves little indication that the administration has pressing plans to follow through on a chief promise of President Barack Obama regarding the "Gitmo" facility in Cuba.
It was established in 2001 within a remote U.S. naval base to house those classified as enemy combatants.
Fried's post was created in 2009 shortly after Obama announced his intention to close Guantanamo Bay within his first year in office.
Fried has traveled the world since negotiating the repatriation of about 30 low-level detainees and resettling about 40 more eligible for release but unable to return to their home countries due to fears of abuse.
But significant congressional restrictions on further detainee transfers left Fried's job less demanding. Most recently, he spent some of his time working to help resettle a group of Iranian exiles, known as the MEK, living in a refugee camp in Iraq.
"Guantanamo hasn't been a full time job for a year," one senior official said, citing the new congressional restrictions.
Obama signed the limits into law as part of a 2013 defense spending bill.
Administration officials initially said he might veto the defense measure if the legislation included detainee transfer restrictions, which would undercut his pledge to close the facility.
Officials insist the administration still is intent on closing it.
Fried, a career diplomat, will now become the State Department's coordinator for sanctions policy, which includes prohibitions against Iran, North Korea and Syria.