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Al-Qaida remains top threat, U.S. says

WASHINGTON, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- Al-Qaida's organization in Pakistan posed the most significant threat to the United States in 2009, a report by the U.S. State Department said.

The State Department this week released its 292-page assessment of terrorism threats to the United States.

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The report finds that al-Qaida in 2009 remained the greatest threat to the United States because of its adaptability and determination to strike Western targets.

"We assess that al-Qaida was actively engaged in operational planning against the United States and continued recruiting, training, and deploying operatives, including individuals from Western Europe and North America," said Daniel Benjamin, the coordinator for counter-terrorism at the State Department.

U.S. military forces scored major victories against key al-Qaida and Taliban leaders during counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Baitullah Mehsud, a top Taliban commander, was killed by a U.S. airstrike in August 2009 and al-Qaida No. 3 Mustafa Abu Yazid was killed by a missile fired from a U.S. drone in Pakistan in late May.

Benjamin said the group remains under pressure in Pakistan and faces a backlash from conservative clerics speaking out against the group in the Middle East and Central Asia.

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He added, however, that al-Qaida has diversified beyond its base in Pakistan to become a major threat through affiliates in Somalia and Yemen.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday the indictment of 14 U.S. nationals accused of supporting al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaida operating in Somalia. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni branch of al-Qaida, has connections to at least two terrorist plots on U.S. soil.

Washington said it wanted Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric with AQAP, dead or alive for his role as an insurgent leader.

"We should make no mistake about the nature of Awlaki, this is not just an ideologue, but someone at the heart of a group plotting terrorist acts against Americans," he said.

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