NEW YORK (Reuters) - Islamist extremists similar to the Times Square bomber are living among New Yorkers and the threat of attack by "homegrown terrorists" is not diminishing, city Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said on Wednesday.
A failed attempt by a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen to blow up a car bomb in midtown Manhattan last month confirmed "the threat from radical Islam shows no sign of receding," Kelly told the Association for a Better New York, a non-profit group.
Shahzad pleaded guilty on Monday to 10 charges, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted terrorism transcending national borders, and boasted that extremists would continue to attack the United States.
Kelly said Shahzad's plea was a "chilling reminder" of the threat posed by "homegrown terrorists who make no apologies for trying to kill as many New Yorkers as possible to avenge what they perceive as American responsibility for Muslim deaths abroad."
"Shahzad could not have put it more plainly when he said, 'It's a war,'" Kelly said. "If the NYPD's intelligence program has taught us anything, it is that there are others living among us who share his beliefs and aspirations."
Shahzad said the United States would continue to be attacked until it stopped drone aircraft attacks and the occupation of "Muslim lands." CIA-operated drones have targeted Taliban figures in Pakistan's tribal areas and the group has vowed to avenge missile strikes that have killed some of its leaders.
NO SHORTAGE OF NY TARGETS
Kelly said police and intelligence services have disrupted 11 plots to attack New York since the September 11, 2001, attacks destroyed the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Five of those plots were planned by people living in the United States, he said.
"The Internet is facilitating the increase in homegrown radicalization, giving al Qaeda a powerful means to inspire," said Kelly, adding that the group continued to recruit using "charismatic religious leaders."
One such leader is American Anwar al-Awlaki, an al Qaeda member based in Yemen who Kelly said posted Internet videos that helped inspire several extremists, such as Shahzad, to attack the United States.
Al-Awlaki also had ties to Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army major who shot dead 13 troops at Fort Hood, Texas, last November in the worst-ever shooting on a U.S. military post.
Kelly said there were a growing number of cases where radicalized Americans were traveling to combat zones in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Kashmir, Kosovo and Iraq to receive training from extremist Islamist groups.
"Some take part in combat operations against U.S. troops, others are redirected home to gather intelligence and carry out attacks," Kelly said.
Shahzad admitted traveling to Pakistan to receive bomb-making training from the Pakistani Taliban, called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, before carrying out his failed attack in Times Square on May 1.
"The city has no shortage of high-value targets," Kelly said. "We focus our efforts on the areas the terrorists are most likely to attack. Certainly, Lower Manhattan and Midtown Manhattan are at the top of the list."