Al Qaeda in decline, but threats to US multiply

Al Qaeda in decline, but threats to US multiply Washington: Al Qaeda is in decline around the world but remains a leading threat to the United States, joined by others like Iran, the top US intelligence official said Wednesday in an annual report to Congress on threats facing America.

Iran's leaders seem prepared to attack US interests overseas, particularly if they feel threatened by possible US action, Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But Clapper, CIA chief David Petraeus and others reasserted their position that Iran is not building nuclear weapons, in contrast to Israeli officials' statements that Iran could have nuclear capability within a year.

Petraeus said he met with the head of Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, last week to discuss Israel's concerns, but he did not say whether Israel agreed with the US assessment that Iran had not yet decided to make a nuclear weapon.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said last week that Iran is proceeding toward nuclear weapons capability and time is "urgently running out."

Al-Qaeda and Iran are part of a mosaic of interconnected enemies the US faces, including terrorists, criminals and foreign powers, who may try to strike via nuclear weapons or cyberspace, Clapper and the others said.

Al-Qaeda still aspires to strike the US, but it probably will have to go for "smaller, simpler attacks" as its ranks are thinned by continued pressure from US drone strikes and special operations raids since Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of Navy SEALs in Pakistan last year, Clapper predicted.

"When you take one two and three out in a single year," that weakens the force, added Petraeus. The CIA chief pointed out that "four of the top 20 in a single week were captured or killed," last year, leaving the leadership struggling to replace itself.