CIA claims Bin Laden is isolated in Al Qaeda... but he's still the greatest threat to the U.S.

Osama Bin Laden is 'increasingly isolated within Al Qaeda', the CIA has warned

Osama Bin Laden is 'increasingly isolated within Al Qaeda', the CIA has warned

Osama Bin Laden is isolated from the day-to-day operations of his Al Qaeda terror network sheltered in a hideout in Pakistan's tribal area, the head of the CIA has claimed.

But CIA director Michael Hayden warned that Al Qaeda's influence was increasing in Africa with more East Africans, particularly Somalis, being recruited for operations.

The warning comes just days after a leaked MI6 and Ministry of Defence intelligence report revealed Somalis trained in their homeland were in major British cities planning terror attacks.

'Al Qaeda is engaging Somali extremists to revitalise operations... Al Qaeda could claim to be re-establishing its operations base in East Africa,' General Hayden said.

George Bush has ordered the hunt for Bin Laden, the world's most wanted terrorist, to be stepped-up in a bid to kill or capture him before he hands over the presidency to Barack Obama in January.

The general said the terror chief is'putting a lot of energy into his own survival, a lot of energy into his own security.'

'In fact, he appears to be largely isolated from the day-to-day operations of the organisation he nominally heads,' he said.

Despite the massive resources at their disposal since the 9/11 Twin Towers attacks in 2001, it remains a huge frustration for intelligence operatives in both the US and Britain that Bin Laden has still not been found.

General Hayden said the hunt remained the top priority of U.S. security forces, who have become increasingly active in Pakistan's north-west tribal areas where Bin Laden is believed to be sheltering.

'His death or capture clearly would have a significant impact on the confidence of his followers - both core Al Qaeda and unaffiliated extremists throughout the world,' the CIA chief said.

While there had been notable successes against Al Qaeda, he warned : 'If there is a major strike on this country, it will bear the fingerprints' of the group.

In an address to the Atlantic Council, General Hayden continued : 'All the threats we have to the West have a thread that takes it back to the (Afghanistan-Pakistan) border.'

He said no spike in terrorist 'chatter' has been noted to suggest an attack on the United States linked to the presidential transition. 'But we don't know what we don't know,' he added.

It is the first transfer of power in 40 years to take place while U.S. soldiers were in combat.

The intelligence agencies have received 'very clear direction' to make this the smoothest transition in history 'so there is no diminution in the ability of the republic to defend itself,' the general added.

Al Qaeda is also strengthening in Yemen with an 'unprecedented number of attacks' in 2008 and is likely to be a launching pad for attacks against Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, Al Qaeda's position in Pakistan has allowed it to train a 'bench of skilled operatives' that can carry out attacks when other cells are disrupted, he said.

Iraq also remains a terrorist staging ground. Al-Qaida fighters honed in the Iraq war are now leaving for other countries and pose a continuing potential problem, General Hayden warned.

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