Federal authorities warn local officials to remain cautious

Security measures planned for weekend events across nation

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

September 22, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Guarding against the possibility of new terrorist violence, federal authorities cautioned local officials across the country yesterday to remain on heightened alert through the weekend.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it would enforce a no-fly zone over college and professional sports stadiums. The Miss America Pageant brought in bomb-sniffing dogs for tonight's event and canceled its Atlantic City boardwalk parade for the first time ever.

Heightened security surrounding some of America's oldest fall traditions came after reports that more terrorist strikes had been planned for today. Justice Department officials said there was no evidence of credible threats, but the FBI issued precautionary suggestions for extra patrols.

The domestic security alerts came as the sweeping investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon expanded in Europe. Also, U.S. officials for the first time released some detailed information on the more than 80 individuals held on suspicion of violating immigration laws.

In Germany, authorities announced that they were seeking two men believed to have helped plot the deadly hijackings, according to the Associated Press. Four individuals in London and 17 in Paraguay also were detained for questioning. French authorities said they arrested seven people in connection with an alleged plot to attack U.S. sites in France.

U.S. investigators would not comment on those reports.

The German arrest warrants were for Ramzi Binalshibh, 29, of Yemen, and Said Bahaji, 26, a Moroccan residing in Germany. German prosecutors said both men are being sought on charges of forming terrorist organizations and at least 5,000 murder counts, roughly the number killed at the World Trade Center.

In the United States, the FBI yesterday would confirm only that about 230 people now are on the list of possible suspects and people wanted for questioning in the case. At the end of the second week of the massive probe, the FBI had received more than 134,000 leads and sent more than 100 pieces of evidence to its crime lab.

The bureau said more than 80 people are in custody in the United States on possible immigration violations who are believed to have information relevant to the probe.

Many of those individuals came to the United States on student, business or visitor visas from Middle Eastern countries, according to Justice Department documents released yesterday. Several arrived just before the attacks, the records show, but others have been living in the country for years.

The department blacked out for privacy reasons all identifying information on the documents - including the detainees' names, where they were arrested and where they are being held. The documents did not say what connection any of the individuals might have.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III were in New York yesterday to inspect the massive destruction at the site of the World Trade Center's twin towers.

While there, Ashcroft said the government would send $10 million earmarked for community policing efforts to the city. That money is in addition to the $20 billion in emergency aid approved by Congress last week.

"Only standing in the midst of the twisted, torn, shattered rubble can one appreciate in any respect the scale, scope, the difficulty of this act of war perpetrated on the United States of America," Ashcroft said.

The reality set in elsewhere as such American institutions as baseball and the Miss America Pageant tightened security at the suggestion of federal authorities. In Los Angeles, Hollywood studios canceled tours and set up metal detectors and barriers after the FBI warned they could be the targeted by terrorists.

News reports yesterday said the Boston area - a city where Osama bin Laden is reported to have extensive ties and where two of the hijacked flights took off - could be at greatest risk. But officials discounted those threats.

"I just want to assure people that we're working to make this city the safest city in America," Boston Mayor Thomas Merino told reporters.

In New Jersey, the Miss America Pageant issued a statement explaining its decision to scratch last night's boardwalk parade.

"Although there have been no specific threats against the parade or the competition, the difficulty in securing the length of the parade line dictates the need for cancellation. The organization has complied with what the authorities decided is prudent."

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