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Gonzales: Al Qaeda a homeland threat

Attorney general refutes recent reports of diminished risk

From Kevin Bohn

Which do you think is facing the bigger threat from al Qaeda?
U.S. domestic targets
U.S. interests abroad
United States
Acts of terror
Al Qaeda

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has dismissed recent media reports in which some government officials said the al Qaeda threat to the United States has diminished and that the terror group is focusing mostly overseas.

"I believe to the contrary, that despite our successes, the threat posed by al Qaeda and other similar groups is still very real," Gonzales said in remarks prepared for delivery Tuesday morning to a law enforcement conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Gonzales mentioned no particular stories but said he had read some "very recently" in which "certain government officials [are] saying that we have been so successful that al Qaeda longer poses a real threat to our homeland, that instead they are focused on our interests overseas."

The Bush administration has argued the continuing terror threat is the key reason Congress must renew certain portions of the Patriot Act, the key anti-terrorism legislation passed in the weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks. More than a dozen parts of the act will expire at the end of the year unless they are renewed by Congress.

For several weeks Senate and House committees have been holding hearings examining those various expiring provisions.

A broad coalition of liberal and conservative activists have argued those provisions -- such as one allowing a search of a broad array of business records and another allowing searches in terrorism investigations to be conducted without notifying the target ahead of time -- can be eliminated or sharply curtailed without endangering the United States.

Last month, Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee he is "open to suggestions" on changing the Patriot Act but would oppose any alteration that reined in the law enforcement powers. (Full story)

"Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups still pose a grave threat to the security of the American people, and now is not the time to relinquish some of our most effective tools in this fight," Gonzales said.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that counterterrorism officials said reports documenting credible terror threats against the U.S. homeland were at their lowest level since the September 11 attacks.

Gonzales and other law enforcement officials have expressed some concern the United States is becoming complacent to the terror threat since there has been no other attack on U.S. soil since the 2001 hijackings.

"We cannot afford to grow complacent. We cannot dare to assume the quiet of today will mean peace for tomorrow," the attorney general said in his prepared remarks. "All of us in the justice community are keenly aware of the continuing threat posed by terrorists."

A State Department report issued last week said the fight against international terrorism remains "formidable" for the United States and its allies. And statistics from the National Counterterrorism Center showed no attacks on the U.S. homeland in 2004, though about 10 percent of the 651 significant attacks worldwide targeted U.S. interests. (Full story)

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