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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder warned on Wednesday of increased "radicalization" of Americans in recent months, two days after seven people were arrested in North Carolina for allegedly plotting attacks overseas.
Holder, the top U.S. law enforcement officer, expressed significant concerns about people going abroad and then returning to the United States with the "aim of doing harm to the American people."
"The constant scream of threats, the kind of things you have to be aware about, the whole notion of radicalization is something that didn't loom as large a few months ago ... as it does now," Holder said in an interview with ABC News.
Prosecutors on Monday unveiled a seven-count indictment charging seven people in North Carolina with plotting to carry out attacks overseas and numerous weapons possession charges.
The leader of the group, Daniel Patrick Boyd, trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 1989 to 1992 and used that experience to set up his own organization to train fighters, raise money and carry out attacks abroad, according to the indictment.
He was also accused of drawing his two sons into the group.
The United States has been on heightened alert for security threats since the September 11 attacks in 2001, when al Qaeda militants using hijacked jetliners killed 2,749 people.
In the worst case of home-grown terrorism in the United States, Timothy McVeigh was executed -- three months before the September 11 attacks -- for the killing of 168 people in the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
In the interview, Holder also expressed concerns about a group of young Somali men leaving the Minneapolis area to join an Islamist group fighting a civil war in Somalia.
"What you see in Somalia with al Shabaab, and potential connection to people in the Midwest part of the U.S. ... is of great concern," Holder said.
Al Shabaab -- seen by Western security services as al Qaeda's proxy in the Horn of Africa nation -- controls large swathes of south and central Somalia.
Al Shabaab, which means "Youth" in Arabic, has vowed to rule the majority Muslim nation by a hardline interpretation of Islamic law.
The FBI has been investigating whether the teens from Minnesota were recruited by the group to fight in an insurgency against Somalia's Western-backed government.
Additional reporting by JoAnne Allen; editing by Mohammad Zargham