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ABC News Exclusive: Napolitano on Al Qaeda, Homegrown Terror Threats

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Heading into the 10th anniversary weekend of the 9/11 attacks, the nation’s top counterterrorism officials have ramped up security measures, and are looking out for a “lone wolf.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told ABC News that “we don’t right now have intelligence that a big plot is in the works.”

But while there is no known specific plot by al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, Napolitano warned, “now that differentiates from the lone wolf, the lone actor that we may not know about, who may already be in the United States and so it requires us to be vigilant and the public to be vigilant. ”

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Napolitano surveyed the state of U.S. defenses against al Qaeda.

While “core al Qaeda” in Pakistan and Afghanistan has deteriorated, she said, al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula has grown into a real threat.

A big reason al Qaeda is so potent, she said, was its leader, Anwar Alwaki.  Alwaki is an American Imam who became radicalized and is now operating his own terror group in Yemen.  Sources have told ABC News that Alwaki is intent on striking the U.S. in any way he can.

In fact, an ABC News analysis shows that Alwaki is either behind, or has inspired, 19 Americans who federal prosecutors say were homegrown radicals.

“He is at the top of the list, if not at the top,” Napolitano said of Alwaki when asked if he was a prominent threat.  “He knows Western ways, he kind of knows how to market to Westerners and we know that al Qaeda is trying to recruit."

Napolitano said Alwaki is using online magazines and videos to try to lure disaffected Americans into his violent ideology.

“You know the Internet is a powerful tool for good, for friendships, for commerce, for what have you, but it also can be used for evil,” the DHS secretary said.  “And we see it being used to recruit young Americans, not necessarily even young Americans, to a terrorist-type ideology.”

She added that one of the biggest changes she has seen as DHS secretary, “is the movement toward the home-grown violent extremist.  The person who for whatever reason decides to attack his fellow citizens.”

To combat the surge in homegrown terror, Napolitano said, “requires us to focus more on training local law enforcement, they’re the eyes out there.”  And she emphasized, getting the public engaged, through the “See something, say something” program, is key to stopping homegrown threats.  “The public,” she said, “are our other set of eyes.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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