French militant attack underscores need for U.S. vigilance: U.S. official

PHOENIX Wed Apr 4, 2012 5:48pm EDT

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano speaks during a news conference at the presidential house in San Jose February 28, 2012. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano speaks during a news conference at the presidential house in San Jose February 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Juan Carlos Ulate

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PHOENIX (Reuters) - Recent attacks by an al Qaeda-inspired gunman in France highlight the need for enhanced cooperation between U.S. federal and local police to thwart domestic attacks, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Wednesday.

"We just need to look, unfortunately, overseas to what happened in France with the murders there," Napolitano told a training event in Phoenix for federal, state and local law enforcement.

"The recent attack in Toulouse underscores the need ... for analytical capabilities and law enforcement capabilities on the ground in every community," she added.

Mohamed Merah, 23, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, shot dead seven people in attacks in southern France last month, which ended when he died in a hail of bullets following a police siege.

Napolitano highlighted the case of Merah, who grew up in a Toulouse suburb, to stress the importance of cooperation between federal and local law enforcement to identify potential militant threats in the United States.

"What we see now is a conscious effort by terrorists to recruit persons who are already in the United States and who may be unknown to the law enforcement and intelligence communities," Napolitano said.

"Because we are in an environment where it's not the megaplot hatched overseas with people who fly into the United States as we saw in the attacks of 9/11 ... but it can be people who are right here and who we don't have much knowledge about.

"That means that local law enforcement is often in the best position to notice ... signs of potential terrorist activity, and this has a profound impact on how we approach homeland security," she added.

Napolitano spoke at a training event for National Fusion Centers, which bring together federal, state and local authorities to investigate leads and share information on militancy, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Napolitano highlighted recent collaborative efforts between U.S. federal and local authorities in thwarting potential attacks in New York and Texas in the past two years.

A Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, Faisal Shahzad, drove a sport utility vehicle packed with a crude bomb into the heart of Times Square in New York in May 2010. The bomb was spotted by an alert passerby, and Shahzad was caught days later as he tried to fly to Dubai.

U.S. Army soldier Naser Jason Abdo, was arrested near Fort Hood in Texas last July after materials that authorities said could have made a bomb were discovered in his motel room in Killeen.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)

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