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Response to 'credible threat' shows how much has changed since 9/11

Al Qaeda may have been degraded since 2001. But the threat since 9/11 has become more complicated, decentralized and elusive with franchises, affiliates, and homegrown terrorists.

By Staff writer / September 9, 2011

A New York police officer examines a truck at a vehicle check point on Friday. The city is deploying additional resources and taking other security steps in response to a potential terror threat before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Jin Lee/AP

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On Thursday, federal and New York City authorities disclosed that the U.S. had received specific and credible but uncorroborated intelligence indicating three individuals may have entered the U.S. as part of a possible plot to attack Washington or New York on the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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Nothing may come of the threat, but national, state, and local law enforcement agencies are taking no chances.

In New York, police are paying particular attention to bridges and tunnels, checking vehicles. Armed transit police and National Guard troops are patrolling Penn Station. Unattended cars parked suspiciously in Washington are being towed, and police there are working 12-hour shifts.

IN PICTURES: American Jihadis

The reason authorities are paying such close attention to the most recent threat may not be because of newly gathered intelligence alone, but rather from a steady string of lower-level attack threats in the US since 9/11, plotted by individuals and small groups inspired by Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda’s capabilities may have been degraded in the years since 2001, says Amy Zegart, professor of public policy at UCLA's School of Public Affairs and a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. But the group once led by Osama bin Laden has since “morphed into a more complicated, decentralized and elusive threat” including affiliates or franchise groups operating in places like Yemen and Somali and “homegrown terrorists inspired by violent extremism, often through the Internet in the comfort of their own living rooms,” she writes this week in a Los Angeles Times column.

“Plots by homegrowns and franchise groups have risen dramatically in recent years,” she writes, pointing to the Ft. Hood shootings, the Christmas Day “underwear” bomber, the plot to explode printer cartridges on cargo planes, and the Times Square bomb plot.

There have been other attacks and attempted attacks as well: the Somalia-born teen who plotted to explode a bomb in the Portland, Ore., Pioneer Courthouse Square just as families had gathered for a Christmas tree lighting; the shooting of two US military recruiters in Little Rock, Ark.; the arrest of Army Private 1st Class Naser Abdo with guns and explosives near Fort Hood, Texas, last July; the arrest a month earlier of two men – US citizens who had converted to Islam – who tried to acquire machine guns in order to attack the Military Entrance Processing Station just south of Seattle.

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