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Obama to deliver State of Union address amid rising threat of global terror

By Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to address the rising threat of global terrorism at Tuesday's annual State of the Union address, just weeks after the bloody massacres in Paris that shocked France and nations worldwide.

"I expect president Obama to address security concerns. With all the attention paid to the Paris attacks, he will reiterate America's interest in protecting its citizens," Brookings Institution's senior fellow Darrell West told Xinhua in an interview.

Events in Paris grabbed worldwide attention in recent weeks after two Islamist gunmen stormed French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo's headquarters on Jan. 7, killing a dozen of cartoonists and a police officer. In another related terror attack two days later, four Jewish hostages were shot dead by an Islamist gunman in a Paris Jewish grocery store.

Experts and officials fret other radical groups may be emboldened by those slayings and could be eying the U.S. as a possible target. At the same time, critics accused Obama of showing little leadership on the issue, which they say was spotlighted by the U.S. president's no-show at an anti-terrorism rally in Paris last week that drew 40 world leaders including the heads of Germany, Britain and Israel.

While authorities are pointing at al-Qaida in Yemen (AQAP) as having orchestrated the bloody attacks in Paris, some U.S. experts said other terror groups could feel a need to compete to gain the spotlight.

Indeed, the Islamic State (IS), the group that has overtaken vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, has posted a new video on the social media site Twitter that instructs followers to attack targets including the U.S.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua that while Obama will address Americans' concerns over terrorism, the topic is unlikely to comprise the bulk of the speech. "The terrorism part, I can't see him spending a lot of time on it, but obviously his approval ratings are (low) and a lot of Americans don't think he is focusing on (terrorism) in the best way," he said.

Those sentiments echo critics' concerns that Obama simply declared victory and moved on to what he believed were more important issues after U.S. forces killed al-Qaida's head Osama bin Laden in 2011.

"I think the American people want to hear how the fight against the Islamic State is progressing given that American troops are again being deployed to the region for training and advisory missions," Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, told Xinhua in an interview.

He added that he believes Obama will reiterate calls for Congress to pass a formal authorization for the use of military force against IS while reiterating his promise that the military effort won't require U.S boots on the ground.

Washington's worst nightmare is another 9/11 style attack, whereby al-Qaida operatives struck New York and Washington and killed nearly 3,000 people in 2001, and the U.S. wants to prevent a situation whereby extremists have a safe haven from where to plot such a strike. That is why the U.S. is engaged in an ongoing bombing campaign against IS positions in Iraq.

Meanwhile, for the first time in five years, the same percentage of Americans cite defending the U.S. against terrorism as the nation's top priority as those who cite strengthening the nation's economy as the no. 1 issue, according to a report released last week by the Pew Research Center. Those groups stand at 76 percent and 75 percent, respectively.

Since Obama began his second term in January 2013, the economy has declined 11 points as a top priority, and improving the job situation has fallen 12 points, from 79 percent to 67 percent, Pew found.

There has been little change over the past two years in the number saying that defending against terrorism should be a top priority; in fact, this has consistently been among the public's leading policy goals since 2002. But it has moved to the top of the priorities list as the economy and jobs have fallen, Pew found.

"Security is gong to be over the next three or four years one of the top three or four issues...It's something that Americans are concerned about," O'Connell said.

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