WASHINGTON: Al Qaeda's core leadership has been severely damaged but the network's affiliate in Yemen poses a growing danger, US intelligence chiefs said Tuesday.
Even as al Qaeda faces unprecedented pressure, its Yemen-based branch "has emerged as the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad" and has benefited from political unrest in Yemen, the new CIA director David Petraeus told lawmakers.
(Read: “Yemen al Qaeda warns fight not over, 'worse to come'”)
"The CIA assesses that, ten years after the 9/11 attacks, the United States continues to face a serious threat from al Qaeda and its worldwide network of affiliates and sympathizers," Petraeus, the country's most prominent general who retired from the military to take over the CIA job.
(Read: “9/11 anniversary: As tears unite Americans, the spotlight shifts to Abbottabad”)
Heavy losses among al Qaeda's leadership have "created an important window of vulnerability" for the network in Pakistan and Afghanistan but "exploiting that window will require a sustained, focused effort," he said.
At the same hearing, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said al Qaeda in Yemen was clearly "a determined enemy," citing the group's attempts to blow up a US-bound airliner in December 2009 and planes in October last year.
"We have substantial concerns about this group's capability to conduct additional attacks targeting the US homeland and US interests overseas, as well as its continuing propaganda efforts designed to inspire like-minded Western extremists to conduct attacks in their home countries," Clapper said.
The two appeared before a joint hearing of the Senate and House intelligence committees, the first in ten years, looking at the state of US spy agencies in the decade since the September 11 attacks.
Both men cited the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a US raid in May as a major blow to the terror network and described it as a sign of increasing cooperation among intelligence agencies and the military.
(Read: "Osama bin Laden killed")
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