By Holmes Lybrand and Paul LeBlanc, CNN
FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday expressed concern over potential terrorist attacks on US soil emanating from Afghanistan, citing “growing intelligence gaps” since the US pulled its troops out of the country in 2021.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Wray, “Are you worried about an attack on the homeland emanating from places like Afghanistan?”
“We are,” Wray responded. “Especially now that we’re out, I’m worried about the potential loss of sources and (intelligence) collection over there.”
The FBI director added that he was worried terrorists in the US could be inspired by the potential growth of terrorist organizations in Afghanistan. “I’m worried about the possibility that we will see al Qaeda reconstitute, ISIS-K potentially taking advantage of the deteriorating security environment, and I’m worried about terrorists, including here in the United States, being inspired by what they see over there,” Wray said.
His comments come just days after the US killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan via drone strike. In announcing the operation, President Joe Biden said Monday, “I made a promise to the American people that we continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We’ve done just that.”
Biden pledged that Zawahiri “will never again allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist safe haven, because he is gone and we’re going to make sure that nothing else happens.”
Still, when asked Thursday whether he was surprised that Zawahiri was living in Afghanistan, Wray said he was “not surprised, but disappointed.”
Wray’s comments echo a “worldwide caution update” issued by the State Department earlier this week in the wake of Zawahiri’s death. “The Department of State believes there is a higher potential for anti-American violence given the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri on July 31, 2022,” the notice said.
“Current information suggests that terrorist organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions across the globe,” it described.
“These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings.”
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CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.