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Tuesday, May 3, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

U.S. prepares for backlash in Arab peninsula, Europe, N. Africa, all embassies

WASHINGTON — The United States is bracing for retaliation in wake of the killing of Al Qaida chief Osama Bin Laden.


Officials said the most dangerous of Al Qaida's franchises has been Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, led by American-born cleric Anwar Al Awlaqi. AQAP, based in Yemen and commanded by Saudis, has tried to bomb U.S. planes at least three times in less than 18 months.

Another Islamic insurgency threat has come from Al Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb. Officials said AQIM, established in 2006 and bolstered by fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan, has expanded operations from North Africa into neighboring Europe.

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On May 1, the State Department warned Americans throughout the world of the prospect of an Al Qaida attack. The department urged Americans abroad to avoid travel.

"Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens in areas where events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations," the State Department said.

"The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad to the enhanced potential for anti-American violence following recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan," the department said.

Officials said U.S. embassy operations could be reduced in the Middle East in wake of the Bin Laden killing. Officials said virtually all embassies were assessing security arrangements.

Officials said the U.S. intelligence community has warned of attacks on American military and civilian targets in the Middle East and South Asia in wake of the killing of Bin Laden on May 1 near Islamabad, Pakistan. They said retaliation could be left to one or several major Al Qaida franchises formed over the last seven years.

"There is no doubt Al Qaida will continue to pursue attacks against us," President Barack Obama said. "We must, and we will remain, vigilant at home and abroad."

"Counterterrorism efforts must continue, and in the short-term perhaps even increase," Daniel Byman, research director for the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said. "The risk of revenge attacks should lead to a focus on bolstering defenses in the short-term."

Byman said the most likely successor to Bin Laden would be his Egyptian deputy, Ayman Zawahiri. Zawahiri, also believed to be based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been regarded as Bin Laden's liasion to Al Qaida franchises.

"Aggressive strikes on Al Qaida leaders in Pakistan and the global intelligence and policy campaign must continue," Byman said.

Another franchise was Al Qaida in Iraq, founded in 2004 by Jordanian national Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi. Officials said AQI has been seriously weakened and was not believed capable of staging a major strike outside Iraq.

"We understand that the fight against Al Qaida continues, and that fight continues even as we mark the loss of Osama Bin Laden," a senior U.S. intelligence official said on May 2.

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