I've often warned that if we fail in Iraq, the enemy will follow us home. Many ask: How do you know? Today, I'd like to share some information with you that attests to al Qaeda's intentions. According to our intelligence community, in January 2005, Osama bin Laden tasked the terrorist Zarqawi -- who was then al Qaeda's top leader in Iraq -- with forming a cell to conduct terrorist attacks outside of Iraq. Bin Laden emphasized that America should be Zarqawi's number one priority in terms of foreign attacks. Zarqawi welcomed this direction; he claimed that he had already come up with some good proposals.And they will, no matter what successes we have in terms of intelligence and law enforcement.
To help Zarqawi in these efforts, our intelligence community reports that bin Laden then tasked one of his top terrorist operatives, Hamza Rabia, to send Zarqawi a briefing on al Qaeda's external operations, including information about operations against the American homeland. Our intelligence community reports that a senior al Qaeda leader, Abu Faraj al-Libi, went further and suggested that bin Laden actually send Rabia, himself, to Iraq to help plan external operations. Abu Faraj later speculated that if this effort proved successful, al Qaeda might one day prepare the majority of its external operations from Iraq.
In May of 2005, Abu Faraj was captured and taken into CIA custody. Several months later, in December 2005, Rabia was killed in Pakistan. Several months after that, in June of 2006, the terrorist Zarqawi was killed by American forces in Iraq. Successes like these are blows to al Qaeda. They're a testament to steps we have taken to strengthen our intelligence, work closely with partners overseas, and keep the pressure on the enemy by staying on the offense. (Applause.)
Despite our pressure, despite the setbacks that al Qaeda has suffered, it remains extremely dangerous. As we've surged our forces in Iraq, al Qaeda has responded with a surge of its own. The terrorists' goal in Iraq is to reignite sectarian violence and break support for the war here at home. And they believe they're succeeding. A few weeks ago, al Qaeda's number two, second in command, Zawahiri, issued a video in which he gloated that al Qaeda's "movement of violence" has "forced the Americans to accept a pullout -- about which they only differ in regard to its timing." We can expect al Qaeda to continue its campaign of high profile attacks, including deadly suicide bombings and assassinations. And as they do, our troops will face more fighting and increased risks in the weeks and months ahead.
The fight in Iraq is tough, but my point today to you is the fight is essential to our security -- al Qaeda's leaders inside and outside of Iraq have not given up on their objective of attacking America again. Now, many critics compare the battle in Iraq to the situation we faced in Vietnam. There are many differences between the two conflicts, but one stands out above all: The enemy in Vietnam had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland. The enemy in Iraq does. Nine-eleven taught us that to protect the American people, we must fight the terrorists where they live so that we don't have to fight them where we live. (Applause.)
The question for our elected leaders is: Do we comprehend the danger of an al Qaeda victory in Iraq, and will we do what it takes to stop them? However difficult the fight in Iraq has become, we must win it. Al Qaeda is public enemy number one for Iraq's young democracy, and al Qaeda is public enemy number one for America, as well. And that is why we must support our troops, we must support the Iraqi government, and we must defeat al Qaeda in Iraq. (Applause.)
We're thankful to the military, the intelligence, and law enforcement personnel who work tirelessly to stop new attacks on our country. With every plot they foil, every terrorist they capture, we learn more about the enemy's plans and persistence. In the minds of al Qaeda leaders, 9/11 was just a down-payment on violence yet to come. It's tempting to believe that the calm here at home after September the 11th means that the danger to our country has passed. I see the intelligence every day. The danger has not passed. Here in America, we're living in the eye of a storm. All around us, dangerous winds are swirling, and these winds could reach our shores at any moment.
See the Whitehouse website for the full speech and more photographs.