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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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August 5th, 2013
05:31 PM ET

New fears of al Qaeda-linked terror attack

Newly intercepted messages by senior al Qaeda members indicate final planning for an attack may be complete. Dozens of U.S. intelligence analysts are urgently scouring databases, telephone intercepts, and websites for clues.

The messages renewed fears that the terror group may be planning for an attack against the U.S. and western interests.

"What we have heard is some specifics on what's intended to be done and some individuals who are making plans such as we saw before 9/11, whether there are going to be suicide vests that are used, or whether they're planning on vehicle-born bombs being carried into an area, we don't know," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee told NBC's 'Meet the Press' on Sunday.

But before the American people were alerted to the new threat, counterterrorism officials were paying plenty of attention because of prison breaks in three countries that freed hundreds of extremists.

The first break occurred on July 23 in Baghdad, where hundreds of al Qaeda-linked militants spilled out of two prisons after a massive jailbreak. The violence left dozens dead.

On July 26, nearly 1,200 inmates were set free in Benghazi, Libya after residents stormed the prison's walls, unhappy with a prison in their neighborhood.

Just four days later, on July 30, Taliban gunmen wearing police uniforms attacked the largest jail in a northern Pakistan province – 200 inmates escaped.

Moreover in Iraq, al Qaeda is providing jihadist assistance in Syria.

But it was just recently that Americans were told that al Qaeda was left for dead. Running for re-election last fall, President Barack Obama sometimes made it sound like those who would do harm to this country were scurrying away and hiding.

"Today, al Qaeda is on the run and Osama bin Laden is dead," Obama said in October.

But two attacks in the past year show how al Qaeda has found new life, from the attack in Benghazi to the attack in Algeria.

"After Benghazi, these al Qaeda-types are really on steroids, thinking we're weaker and they're stronger," Sen. Lindsey Graham said on CNN's 'State of the Union' Sunday.

Those jail breaks took place just in the past few weeks, and were followed by an unprecedented closing of nearly two dozen diplomatic posts and a global terror alert being sent worldwide.

Dire warnings are being issued on Captiol Hill.

"This is a wake-up call. Al Qaeda is in many ways stronger than it was before 9/11," said Rep. Peter King, R-New York, said on ABC's 'This Week' on Sunday.

"It is scary. Al Qaeda's on the rise in this part of the world," said Graham.

Nowhere is the bomb-making threat of al Qaeda more on display than in Yemen, where the al Qaeda affiliate's chief bomb maker remains the target of a manhunt.

"There are indications from the last week or two that Ayman al-Zawahari the head of al Qaeda core in Pakistan has appointed Naser al-Qahishi the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as his overall general manager, which is unprecedented because he is living in Yemen, he is not living in Pakistan," Seth Jones of the Rand Corportation said.

All of this has the U.S. and the world on are on high alert.

After meeting with commanders, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered U.S. forces in Spain and Italy to a higher state of alert.

Fifteen hundred Marines on board three Navy warships in the Red Sea will now remain off the coast of Yemen, ready to react.

A recent uptick in U.S. drone strikes in Yemen come amid the country's campaign to uproot al Qaeda and its offshoot Ansar al Sharia from the country.

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