updated 3/25/2004 2:27:44 PM ET 2004-03-25T19:27:44

Terrorists could attempt to influence the outcome of this year’s U.S. presidential election by launching attacks in America and overseas, FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mueller also said Islamic extremists have changed tactics and are focusing on recruiting local sympathizers who are less likely to arouse suspicion than outsiders sent into a country to conduct terrorist operations.

The deadly March 11 train bombings in Madrid, which were a factor in the ouster of a pro-U.S. Spanish government, could embolden al-Qaida or other extremists to attack the United States during this summer’s presidential nominating conventions in New York and Boston, Mueller said.

“In the wake of what happened in Madrid we have to be concerned about the possibility of terrorists attempting to influence elections in the United States by committing a terrorist act,” Mueller said.

Those conventions will bookend the Summer Olympics in Athens, another venue that could draw terrorist attacks. The United States has been concerned that security efforts in Athens may fall short of what is necessary to protect athletes and spectators.

“We understand that between now and the election, there is a window of time in which terrorists might try to influence events, whether it’s here or overseas,” Mueller said. The FBI and other U.S. agencies are assisting the Greeks to identify and shore up potential weaknesses.

Regarding the new al-Qaida recruiting tactics, Mueller said that the suicide bombers who took part in last May’s attacks in Casablanca, Morocco, were local extremists and indicated that similar efforts are likely going on in the United States.

Mueller also applauded the cooperation of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in U.S. anti-terrorism efforts. Since the deadly May 12 bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has moved aggressively to root out al-Qaida cells and discovered huge caches of explosives and weapons.

“Saudi Arabia has become a very inhospitable place for al-Qaida,” Mueller said. “That was not always the case.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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