March 27th, 2012
08:28 PM ET

Defense Department: Yemeni branch of al Qaeda a serious threat to U.S.

By Larry Shaughnessy

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula represents a "serious threat" to attack the United States, according to a Defense Department official who oversees special operations.

In testimony before a Senate Armed Service subcommittee, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of Defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict, said the United States has made important gains against the al Qaeda affiliate over the past year, but "the group's intent to conduct a terrorist attack in the United States continue to represent a serious threat."

The threat from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains in spite of the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical cleric who became the public face of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Al-Awlaki had been tied to the attempt to blow up a US commercial airliner as it approached Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009 and to the cargo plane bomb plot the next year. He was killed by a CIA drone missile attack in September.

There are still key players at large in Yemen: al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Naser al-Wuhayshi, a close associate of Osama Bin Laden, and Ibrahim al-Asiri, the skilled bomb maker believed to be behind the aircraft bombing plots as well as a number of former Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Sheehan also testified about Osama Bin Laden's core al Qaeda based in Pakistan. "We have made progress on this front, but al Qaeda is a highly adaptive organization and we must continue to work with Pakistan to address threats emanating from this region."

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Anwar al-Awlaki
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