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Published: Friday, 11/14/2008

Bin Laden isolated, but al-Qaeda still a threat to U.S. safety


WASHINGTON - Osama bin Laden is isolated from the day-to-day operations of al-Qaeda, but the terrorist organization he built is spreading its influence in Africa and the Middle East, CIA Director Michael Hayden said yesterday.

Al-Qaeda remains the single greatest threat to the United States, Mr. Hayden said in a speech to the Atlantic Council.

"All the threats we have to the West have a thread that takes it back to the (Afghanistan/Pakistan) border," he added.

Mr. Hayden said there has been no spike in terrorist "chatter" to suggest an attack on the United States linked to the presidential transition.

He said the intelligence agencies have received "very clear direction" to make this the smoothest transition in history "so there is no diminution in the ability of the republic to defend itself."

Mr. Hayden said bin Laden, believed to be hiding in the tribal border area of Pakistan, "appears to be largely isolated from the day-to-day operations of the organization he leads."

The hunt for bin Laden is at the top of the CIA's priority list.

Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the Philippines, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq have been degraded, but cells are surfacing elsewhere, Mr. Hayden said.

"In East Africa, al-Qaeda is engaging Somali extremists to revitalize operations," the CIA director said.

Recent attacks by an Algerian-based, al-Qaeda-linked group known as Lands of the Islamic Maghreb are bigger and more deadly than at any time since the group merged with al-Qaeda two years ago, he said.

Al-Qaeda also is strengthening in Yemen with an "unprecedented number of attacks" in 2008 and is likely to be a launching pad for attacks against Saudi Arabia. Iraq also remains a terrorist staging ground.

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