White House: 'Core' of al Qaeda has been 'greatly diminished'

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White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed questions Monday about whether the Obama administration had taken its eye off the threat of terrorism since the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Carney said that the “president has been clear that the threat from Al Qaeda very much remains,” and said officials were particularly concerned about affiliates of the terror group outside its main “core” in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“As Al Qaeda's core has been diminished through the efforts of the United States and our allies, affiliate organizations, including in particular, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, have strengthened. We have here in Washington have identified AQAP in particular as the dangerous threat,” Carney said.

Carney added that the affiliate groups had been a point of focus “for some time now,” and said the U.S. had “focused a great deal of attention on those affiliated organizations.”

But Carney also defended President Obama's declaration during the 2012 campaign that the terror group was “on the run,” saying the week-long closure of embassies throughout the Middle East did not invalidate the administration's anti-terror accomplishments.

“There is no question that over the past several years that the Al Qaeda core has been greatly diminished, not least because of the elimination of Osama bin Laden,” Carney said.

He also described the closing of the American outposts as a “temporary measure” done out of “an abundance of caution.”

Carney said Monday that the terror threat that has shuttered embassies across the Middle East could “potentially be beyond” the Arabian Peninsula.

“I would say that the threat is emanating from and maybe directing towards the Arabian Peninsula, but it is beyond that,” Carney told reporters.

“What is also true is that al Qaeda and affiliated organizations represent a continued threat to the U.S., to our allies, to Americans stationed abroad, as well as those here at home,” he added.

Carney revealed few other details about the terror threat, saying he couldn’t answer questions about whether the administration felt confident it could disrupt the attack or what the motivations or timing of the plot could be.

“I'm not in a position to discuss specific intelligence, but we believe this threat is significant and we are taking it seriously for that reason,” Carney said.

The State Department announced over the weekend that it would extend the closure of 19 foreign embassies in the Middle East in response to the terror threat.

“Given that a number of our embassies and consulates were going to be closed in accordance with local custom and practice for the bulk of the week for the Eid celebration at the end of Ramadan, and out of an abundance of caution, we've decided to extend the closure of several embassies and consulates including a small number of additional posts,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said Sunday that the treat was “specific and credible,” and that the al Qaeda group that had drawn the concern of Americans was a “large operation.”

“I must say this is probably one of the most specific and credible threats I’ve seen since 9/11 and that’s why everybody’s taking this so seriously,” McCaul told CBS News. “The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff called it ‘extremely significant.’ ”

“Because of the specificity, where it’s coming from, the credibility of it, the level of chatter — it seems to be a fairly large operation,” he added. “It’s giving the intelligence community quite a bit of pause.”

Psaki said diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa, Tripoli, Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali and Port Louis would remain closed through Saturday.

This story was updated at 3:23 p.m.