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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Terrorism

Mike Levine

Washington, DC

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AQAP Looking To Attack U.S. Food Supply?

December 21, 2010 - 12:41 AM | by: Mike Levine

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John Brennan speaks in Washington, Dec. 17

 

The group behind last year’s failed Christmas Day bombing and the recent attempt to send two explosives-laden packages to the United States wants to attack U.S. food supplies, but U.S. authorities don’t believe the group has the capability to do so, Fox News has learned.

A source with knowledge of the situation said authorities obtained information “a while ago” indicating a possible plot by associates of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to target food at hotels and restaurants inside the United States, perhaps slipping harmful agents into salad bars or buffets.

“We don’t have a specific target or time frame, just the intent,” the source said.

Nevertheless, the source said, authorities are not convinced that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – or AQAP – has the capability to actually carry out such an attack.

An administration official agreed, and a Department of Homeland Security official, who declined to discuss the specific threat information, echoed that in a statement to Fox News.

“We get reports about the different kinds of attacks terrorists would like to carry out that frequently are beyond their assessed capability,” DHS spokesman Sean Smith said, noting that Al Qaeda “has publicly stated its intention to try to carry out unconventional attacks for well over a decade” and recent AQAP “propaganda” has followed suit.

CBS News was the first to report the threat information, saying that the plot may involve the use of ricin or cyanide. However, the source with knowledge of the situation told Fox News authorities determined AQAP’s capability to use those bio-agents in such a manner was “low.”

Still, the U.S. counterterrorism and homeland security communities “have engaged in extensive efforts for many years to guard against all types of terrorist attacks, including unconventional attacks using chemical, biological, radiologican, and nuclear materials,” Smith said in his statement.

Officials from DHS, the Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration have briefed a small group of corporate security officers within the hotel and restaurant industries about the food-borne threat, according to the CBS News report.

The White House’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, recently described AQAP as “now the most operationally active node of the Al Qaeda network.”

“The group’s leadership clearly seeks to apply lessons learned from past attacks, including those of other groups,” Brennan said Friday during a forum on Yemen at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “And their definition of success – stoking fear, even if their attacks fail – portends more such attacks.”

In addition, Brennan said he and his colleagues in the counterterrorism community are “feeling good” that they have put “the appropriate resources in place” to protect against attacks during the current holiday season.

On Christmas Day last year, Umar F. Abdulmutallab of Nigeria tried to detonate his explosives-laden underwear over Detroit. He was allegedly trained and equipped by AQAP. Ten months later, in October, two explosives-laden packages were sent from Yemen to the United States, but the explosives were intercepted overseas after Saudi intelligence officials shared information about the plot.

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