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Al-Qaida said to be branching out

U.S. officials say al-Qaida or affiliated groups are escalating their war and attacking more frequently. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.
/ Source: NBC News

U.S. government agencies around the world are being warned that there is a new terror threat — at home and abroad. NBC News has learned that the Department of Homeland security is preparing a similar advisory.

The Istanbul bombings and increased “chatter” among terror groups being picked up by U.S. intelligence are all part of a frightening pattern.

Since the war in Iraq, experts say al-Qaida has been branching out and using local groups to escalate their attacks.

So far this year there have been major bombings on:

Nov. 8 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Aug 5, the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.

May 16, five locations in Casablanca, Morocco.

May 12, Western workers’ residences in Riyadh.

Significantly, al-Qaida is now targeting America’s allies, not just the United States. ”(President) Bush presented to the world a choice: You are either with us or against us. And in a really perverse way I think al-Qaida has adopted the same strategy: You’re either with us or you’re dead,” said NBC News counter-terrorism analyst Juliette Kayyem.

Since 9/11, the United States has smashed al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan and arrested thousands of operatives. But those who’ve escaped are now carrying al-Qaida’s methods — and money — to other terror groups.

Terror analyst Ben Venzke said, “The organization is so pervasive, so networked, so spread out around the world that they can reach out and work with a large pool of people that, even with our successes, has still not impeded their ability to conduct attacks.”

They can hit close to home — in Riyadh last spring and again in November. Officials say those attacks had all the hallmarks of an al-Qaida operation:

Simultaneous suicide bombings.

Multiple targets.

Bombers even recorded the attack.

In contrast, officials say the May bombings in Morocco were more likely inspired by al-Qaida, but done by a local group — which is even more difficult to track.

“Since we don’t always know these local groups, they may be able to strike without any foreknowledge on our part,” said former counter-terror official Daniel Benjamin.

U.S. officials are now warning that extremists may use the last few days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as an excuse for more violence. U.S. facilities worldwide remain on heightened alert.