America won't shy away from using military force against terrorist groups, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday in New York, where authorities were on guard amid a new threat ahead of Sept. 11 anniversary events.
But the U.S. also will respect the rule of law, she said in a speech laying out the Obama administration's future counterterrorism strategy. Terrorism suspects will be detained humanely and the U.S. will seek to protect innocent civilians when it attacks militants, she said.
"We will always maintain our right to use force against groups such as al-Qaida that have attacked us and still threaten us with imminent violence," Clinton said.
Clinton delivered her speech at John Jay College of Criminal Justice next to a rusted, twisted piece of the World Trade Center that will be mounted in the college's new classroom building. The college lost 68 alumni in the Sept. 11 attacks, most of them New York firefighters.
Her visit comes amid heightened security due to what officials were calling a credible but unconfirmed terror threat against New York and Washington, just before the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The United Nations is holding a conference on terrorism on Sept. 19.
Clinton cited an Associated Press investigation showing that at least 35,000 people have been convicted worldwide and 120,000 arrested on terrorism charges in the last decade.
"Al-Qaida leadership ranks have been devastated," she told the audience of students, professors and reporters. "Virtually every major affiliate has lost key operators."
Clinton said the latest terrorist threat was made public in order to put Americans on alert and activate a "great network of unity and support" against those who would hurt innocent people.
"It is a continuing reminder of the stakes in our struggle against violent extremism," she said.
Clinton also said terrorism suspects should be tried in civilian courts or, when appropriate, military commissions.
The United States "cannot and will not live in fear, sacrifice our values or pull back from the world" over terrorism concerns, she said.
To boost efforts against extremists, the United States and Turkey will spearhead the formation of a 30-nation Global Counterterrorism Forum during a Sept. 21-27 meeting of world leaders at the United Nations, Clinton said.
The group will be aimed mainly at helping nations that are transitioning from autocratic to democratic rule, she said. They will meet regularly to share strategies for tracking militants, write anti-terrorism laws and train judges and police.
The group will put special emphasis on counterterrorism in the Sahel and Horn regions of Africa, which include hotspots such as Somalia and Sudan.
The United Nations also marked the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on Friday, with U.N. General Assembly President Joseph Deiss stressing the need for coordinated global action such as the U.N. counterterrorism conference on Sept. 19.
"Given the proliferation of terrorist threats and actions, we must intensify our efforts without delay," Deiss told member states at a somber gathering that featured a performance by the New York City Symphony Orchestra. "It is urgent that we adopt the necessary complements to the existing instruments."
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro called the attacks "an assault on humanity itself, and on the universal values of peace and dignity the United Nations was created to promote and defend." She recalled that both the U.N. General Assembly and the Security Council "joined their voices in a chorus" to rapidly condemn the attacks.
Associated Press writers Kiley Armstrong in New York and Anita Snow at the United Nations contributed to this report.