By Julian Hattem - 05/18/15 11:26 AM EDT
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) does not pose the biggest threat to the U.S., according to a former leader of the CIA.
It isn’t even in the top three.
Those three al Qaeda subgroups — including the “core” al Qaeda branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as affiliates in Yemen and Syria — have shown more willingness to confront the U.S. on its home soil, Morell said.
Of those, the most dangerous is the Yemen branch, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
“The last three attempted attacks to the United States were by al Qaeda in Yemen,” Morell said. He was referring to the failed 2009 “underwear bomber” plot on Christmas Day, as well as a scuttled 2010 plan to insert bombs into printer ink cartridges and the 2012 discovery of a plan to destroy a plane with a non-metallic suicide vest.
“They have the ability to bring down an airliner in the United States of America tomorrow,” Morell said during remarks at the National Press Club.
The two other groups posing a significant threat to the U.S., he added, were the Syria-based Khorasan Group and the original senior leadership of al Qaeda, including head Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The remarks come after dramatic new gains by ISIS in Iraq. Over the weekend, the extremist group captured the city of Ramadi, a critical regional capital, in a major setback for the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.
On Monday, Morell appeared unfazed by that development.
“There’s going to be ups and downs in this war,” he said. “There’s going to be battles won and battles lost. This is a battle lost.”
“I do think that, when you look at the broader context, taking back 25 percent of the territory that they took in their blitzkrieg, it looks pretty good,” Morell added. “And I have confidence that the strategy that we have in place is eventually going to win back Iraq.”
Morell, who retired from the CIA in 2013, is promoting a new book he wrote about the fight against al Qaeda, called The Great War of Our Time.