- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

The director of national intelligence told the House intelligence committee yesterday that continued violence by al Qaeda terrorists could be undermining the organization’s support in the Muslim world.

“The brutal attacks unleashed by [al Qaeda in Iraq] and the other al Qaeda affiliates against Muslim civilians have tarnished al Qaeda’s self-styled image as the extremist vanguard,” said Director Michael McConnell.

“Now the question becomes, ‘Are we reaching a tipping point to witness the decline of this radical behavior?’ We don’t know the answer to that yet, but we’re watching it very closely to see if we are approaching that tipping point,” he said.

But Mr. McConnell noted that the terrorist organization that struck the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia, killing nearly 3,000 people, “remains the preeminent terrorist threat to the United States here at home and abroad.

“Despite our successes over the years, the group … has been able to regenerate many of its key capabilities,” he said. “And that includes the top leadership, operational lieutenants and most importantly a de facto safe haven in Pakistan’s border area with Afghanistan, known as the FATA, or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.”

Mr. McConnell also said that most of the victims of al Qaeda suicide bombers have been Muslims. He said the violence in Iraq against Iraqis by insurgents pushed local tribes to turn against the group and has led to improved security.

More than 1,300 Pakistanis — civilians and troops — were killed in terrorist attacks and armed clashes in 2007, more than in the six previous years combined.

“In the last year to 18 months, al Qaeda has had difficulty in fundraising and sustaining themselves,” Mr. McConnell said.

He also described Pakistani authorities as “our partners in this fight,” adding that they had “helped us more than any other nation in counterterrorism operations.” He said the Pakistanis were increasingly determined to strengthen their counterterrorism performance, even during a period of heightened domestic political tension.

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