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Former agent: Terrorism a larger threat to U.S. after bin Laden death

PHOENIX -- It has been two years since 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was killed by United States forces in Pakistan.

Retired FBI Special Agent Jack Cloonan, who was part of a task force that investigated Bin Laden after 9/11, said al-Qaida remains a threat, even though its capabilities have been largely diminished with its structure decimated. While he's not the iconic figure of bin Laden, al-Qaida's current chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is a formidable adversary.

"He doesn't rise to bin Laden's level but he would have a loyal following. He espouses a radical message and he wants to punish America."

Cloonan said there's a much larger question than who is fronting al-Qaida: What does the United States do about self-radicalized terrorists, such as the Boston Marathon bombings? Cloonan said trying to protect the United States from the Tsarnaev brothers is very difficult because the universe of potential suspects is so vast.

"And despite our best efforts, we don't know exactly how many of these potential terrorists there are," he said. "We have six terrorism watch lists. One list alone has 700,000-plus names. What does that mean to the public, which presumes if you're on the list, the government knows everything you're doing 24 hours a day? That's unrealistic."

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About the Author


Position: Senior News Reporter. Started with KTAR July 4, 1999.

Favorite spots in Arizona: Pinetop-Lakeside, Alpine, Greer.

Have covered some of the biggest stories in Arizona including nine of the top 10 largest wildfires in state history. The Wallow Fire in 2011 became the largest fire in state history. Rodeo-Chediski Fire in June 2002, which is the second largest fire in Arizona. Covered the Yarnell Hill Tragedy in June 2013 that left 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots dead.

Favorite movies: True Grit, both 1969 John Wayne classic and the remake with Jeff Bridges and Lonesome Dove.

Sports Teams: Washington State University Cougars, Texas Longhorns, The University of Montana Grizzlies.

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