Washington: The threat posed by al Qaeda has now become "hydra-headed", as its affiliates have become stronger in North Africa and the Middle East, while its leaders in the Af-Pak region continue to drive it spiritually, top US officials said on Thursday.
"Although we as a nation have made great progress against core al Qaeda in Pakistan, the threat posed by al Qaeda in a way has become hydra-headed," James Comey Jr, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told lawmakers.
"By that I mean al Qaeda affiliates have blossomed and flourished in places around the world, especially in Middle East and North Africa, and especially in territories that are ungoverned or poorly governed," he said.
Al Qaeda and its affiliates, especially Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - pose the top terrorist threat to the US, he said.
"They are constantly working to develop operatives and techniques to get past our defences and wreak havoc in the homeland," Comey said.
"The al Qaeda core really now is a shadow of its former self. That assessment remains true today. At the same time, al Qaeda and the senior leaders of al Qaeda in Pakistan remain the leader of an ideological movement," Mathew Olsen, the director of the Office of National Intelligence`s National Counter terrorism Centre, said during a Congressional hearing.
"And that includes affiliated groups and followers worldwide, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. And this results in a wide-ranging thread from a diverse and dedicated array of actors," he said in response to a question.
"The recent attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, which was linked to al-Shabaab in Somalia, illustrates the type of threat we face from around the world: committed extremists, the availability of weapons and vulnerable targets."
"Along with January`s attack had the gas facility in Algeria as well as last fall`s attack in Benghazi - all of these attacks serve as sobering reminders of the persistent threat of terrorism that we face in these regions of the world," he argued.
"Today, al Qaeda`s core leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region is still really trying to navigate its response to the ongoing events in the Muslim world and working to promote a global jihadist movement," Olsen told members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
"Additionally, unrest in the Middle East and North Africa most notably in Syria, is creating opportunities for veteran jihadists to recruit and train what may be the next generation of militants, some of whom are less dogmatic in their embrace of al Qaeda`s ideology but still support an anti-Western agenda," he said.
He added that these developments are really blurring the lines between terrorists, insurgent and criminal groups operating in these regions.