The warning comes soon after Washington claimed to have killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
FBI Director Christopher Wray has warned that terrorist groups like al-Qaeda continue to seek ways to launch large-scale attacks in the US and other Western countries, despite Washington's efforts to "degrade" the organization's senior leadership.
Speaking to lawmakers during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Wray said "preventing terrorist attacks" remains "the FBI's top priority" and went on to highlight the alleged threat posed by various actors, including the infamous terror cell behind the September 11 attacks.
"Al-Qaeda maintains its desire to both conduct and inspire large-scale, spectacular attacks," he said, adding that "Over the past year, propaganda from al-Qaeda leaders continued to seek to inspire individuals to conduct their own attacks in the United States and other Western nations."
However, thanks to "continued pressure" on the group by the US military and law enforcement, al-Qaeda has been "degraded," Wray claimed. For that reason, "in the near term," he said it would likely focus its attention on "small-scale, readily achievable attacks in regions such as East and West Africa" instead of more sophisticated operations in the US or Europe.
Over the weekend, the White House said al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a CIA drone strike, ending a years-long manhunt which placed al-Zawahiri near the top of the FBI's most-wanted list. The 71-year-old Egyptian national headed up the group since the death of terrorist kingpin Osama bin Laden in an American raid in 2011, and is thought to have helped plan the 9/11 attacks.
Despite Wray's warnings about the enduring threat posed by foreign-based groups like AQ, the FBI chief said "homegrown violent extremists" are currently the "greatest terrorism threat" in the US, namely those who operate alone or in "small cells." The national security apparatus has repeatedly warned of local radicalism in recent years, stepping up its periodic threat alerts during a string of Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, and even more so following the riot in the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.