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Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Director, Says Lone Wolf Threat Growing

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JANET NAPOLITANO LONE WOLF ATTACK
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee October 19, 2011 | Getty

PARIS — U.S. Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano said Friday that the risk of "lone wolf" attackers, with no ties to known extremist networks or grand conspiracies, is on the rise as the global terrorist threat has shifted.

Such risks, Napolitano said in an interview in Paris, heighten the need to keep dangerous travelers from reaching the United States, and she urged European partners to finalize a deal on sharing passenger data that has met resistance over privacy concerns.

Napolitano acknowledged shifts in the terror threat this year, but said the changes had little to do with the uprisings that have overturned the old order in countries around the Arab world and opened up new opportunities for extremist groups.

Asked about the greatest current threats to the United States, she said one from al-Qaida has morphed. "From a U.S. perspective, over the last several years we have had more attacks emanating from AQAP (al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula) than from core al-Qaida," she told The Associated Press.

"There's been a lot of evolution over the past three years," she said. "The thing that's most noticeable to me is the growth of the lone wolf," the single attacker who lives in the United States or elsewhere who is not part of a larger global conspiracy or network, she said.

She named no examples, but it's a phenomenon that is increasingly the focus of international anti-terror operations.

A former U.S. Army psychiatrist is the sole suspect in deadly shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009. In March, a Kosovo Albanian acting alone fatally shot two American airmen in Frankfurt, Germany. In April, a remote-control bomb exploded in a Marrakech cafe popular with tourists, killing 17 people, mostly foreigners – an attack devised by a Moroccan who was inspired by al-Qaida and tried unsuccessfully for years to join the international terror network before returning to Morocco to devise an attack of his own.

One threat that has remained constant, Napolitano stressed, is that of terrorists reaching U.S. territory. She said the agreement with the EU on sharing data on air passengers for flights from Europe to America is needed to "make sure these global networks and global systems that we all rely on remain safe."

She stressed that such data aided high-profile U.S. terrorist investigations in recent years, including that into Najibullah Zazi, who admitted plotting to bomb New York subways, and David Headley, who was involved in the 2008 Mumbai, India, terrorist attack.

The United States and European Union initialed a new agreement on Nov. 17 after a previous accord from 2007 had to be renegotiated because of changes in EU legislation, and amid criticism that it allowed U.S. authorities too much insight into the private data of EU citizens.

The new deal sets clear limits to what data can be used by U.S. authorities and for how long, and allows passengers to obtain access to their records to correct and delete them.

The accord must still be endorsed by the EU Council – the heads of state, expected to sign off easily later this month – and the European Parliament, where a small group of legislators remains opposed.

The U.S. effort won support Friday from France's interior minister, who acknowledged that Europe gets spillover benefits from the tough U.S. line on terrorism. Claude Gueant said the U.S. made concessions to European concerns about privacy and agreed to share some data with Europe.

"I think this is accord is really a win-win," he told reporters after meeting with Napolitano and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Napolitano and Holder were in Paris for a meeting with counterparts from the so-called G-6 countries: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain.

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Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.