WASHINGTON — The terrorist organization that was once the scourge of the U.S. occupation in Iraq and likely is responsible for more than 100 deaths in the country in the past few days has set its sights on launching attacks inside the United States, intelligence officials said.
Al-Qaida in Iraq released a message this week that threatened to strike at the "heart" of the United States, and several associates of al-Qaida in Iraq have been arrested in the United States and Canada in the past two years, said U.S. officials, a sign that the terrorist affiliate has tried to establish a network inside North America.
The arrests highlight "the potential threat posed to the United States" from al-Qaida in Iraq, Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said during a hearing Wednesday held by the House Homeland Security Committee examining the current threat from terrorism to the United States.
Al-Qaida in Iraq has been known primarily for launching attacks against the American forces in Iraq and the Shiite-led government there, as well as helping to plot attacks in neighboring Jordan.
But "there are networks and recruiting efforts in the U.S. and Canada," said Seth Jones, an al-Qaida expert at the RAND Corp.
On Sunday, the day before the latest wave of attacks, al-Qaida in Iraq released an audio recording to mark the beginning of the Ramadan fast. The message announced a new campaign of violence against the Iraqi government, praised Syria's uprising and made a call for new recruits. It also spoke directly to Americans.
"You will soon witness how attacks will resound in the heart of your land, because our war with you has now started," said a man who identified himself as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the pseudonym used by the head of al-Qaida in Iraq.