Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited the World Trade Center site on Tuesday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and stated that the possibility of another al-Qaida strike is “very real.”
Panetta detailed that despite three of al-Qaida’s top four leaders having been killed, branches of the group remains and their militant ideologies continue. He noted that al-Qaida factions are known to be in areas such as Somalia and Yemen.
“They continue to plan attacks and I don’t think we can take anything for granted,” Panetta told reporters. “The potential for that kind of attack remains very real.”
Panetta became defense secretary on July 1 and has since been “strategically defeating” all of the nearest terror groups, he said.
Within the last two days, senior al-Qaida leader Younis al-Mauritani was apprehended in Quetta, Pakistan, by the country’s authorities, which Panetta calls a “a tribute to the Pakistanis.”
“This is one that frankly was particularly encouraging because he was someone that we thought was a real threat,” he said.
“We have had that kind of cooperation [from Pakistan] in the past,” he said. “We’ve had kind of a rocky relationship of late, but we have continued to urge the Pakistanis to work with us … [against] terrorist targets, and this is an indication that they are cooperating with us in that effort.”
Panetta notes that more focus needs to go into finding groups in tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan and more importantly in areas where al-Qaida-linked militants may be plotting attacks.
“We have to continue the pressure on al-Qaida, but there is no question … [on] the 10th anniversary of 9/11, that we have made significant progress,” he said.
Panetta continues to visit various Sept. 11 sites as the anniversary approaches. He is thought to be the first cabinet member to see the finished memorial in New York, called “Reflecting Absence.”