The United States says a growing number of al-Qaida affiliates and other terrorist groups in the Middle East and Africa pose a serious threat to U.S. interests and allies. The warning comes as part of the State Department's annual report
on global terrorism.
Last September's deadly attack on a Nairobi shopping mall is an indication, according to the State Department, that al-Qaida's central leadership is weakening as affiliated or like-minded terrorist groups gain strength. In this case al-Shabab, the Somali group that claimed responsibility for the attack.
The State Department's 2013 terrorism report says top leaders, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, are losing their grip on many al-Qaida affiliates.
And those affiliates are becoming more aggressive, according to the State Department's Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Tina Kaidanow.
"The evidence that we've seen has shown that they are unable to do what they had done in the past, in terms of directing the activity of their affiliates globally. So I think that, you know, through any measure, what that means is, degrading and disrupting has been successful. But that said, there's still a core al-Qaida element that we need to watch out for," said Kaidanow.
The reports focuses largely on the threat in the Middle East and Africa, including groups such as al-Shabab and Boko Haram in Nigeria.
"The past several years have seen the emergence of a more aggressive set of AQ affiliates and like-minded groups, most notably in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, northwest Africa and Somalia," said Kaidanow.
The ongoing conflict in Syria is a key area of long-term concern, she said, because the violence there is attracting extremists from other parts of the world.
"To the extent that Syria continues to become a political issue, and the political conflict continues in Syria, it will attract individuals who then may be radicalized when they go to Syria, and then, at some point, potentially, return home. They could come here as well. That's certainly a possibility," said Kaidanow.
The State Department said Iran continued to be a major state sponsor of terrorism last year. The report accuses Tehran of backing Hezbollah, increasing its presence in Africa and smuggling arms to Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.