Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Panetta on Tuesday said counter terrorism operations have placed al Qaeda’s top leaders under extreme pressure and many are “on the run” but recent thwarted terror plots in the US indicate the terror network is changing its tactics.

“We are a nation at war with al Qaeda and its associates and the war is persistent,” Panetta said during a foreign policy conference at the University of Oklahoma. “They remain determined to kill as many Americans as possible.”

Counter terrorism operations directed at al Qaeda in recent months have led to the deaths of more than half of the terrorist group’s top 20 leaders, Panetta said. Many of the operations were conducted in tribal areas of Pakistan that were once considered an al Qaeda safe haven, he said.
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“Our counter terrorism operations have put senior al Qaeda leaders under intense pressure,” the CIA director said. “We are effectively conducting operations that disrupt the work of al Qaeda, that disrupt their command and control but this is also a war and they will keep coming at us any way we can.” Panetta said there is growing evidence that al Qaeda is changing its tactics by deploying people to the US who have no history of terrorist activity or documented connection to the organisation.

He said another new form of terrorist threat is the “lone wolf” who becomes self-radicalised and decides on his own to take violent action without al Qaeda taking a direct role.