FBI says terrorist threat at high level

Airstrikes on Kabul

alertness at home

War On Terrorism : The Nation

October 12, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - As U.S. warplanes intensified their attacks in Afghanistan yesterday, the FBI warned Americans that it has information indicating there could be further terrorist attacks in the United States and against U.S. interests overseas within the next several days.

That information, the FBI said, "while not specific as to target," has caused it to urge local law enforcement officials to be on the highest alert. The FBI also urged Americans to notify authorities of any suspicious activity. It provided no details.

Top U.S. officials have warned for days of the possibility of terrorist reprisals for the U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan. But yesterday's statement was the FBI's starkest and most specific warning to the public.

President Bush said last night that the FBI warning was the result of a "general threat" the government had received and that he had reviewed the intelligence that prompted the alert.

"I hope it's the last," the president said. "But given the attitude of the evildoers, it may not be."

Speaking at his news conference at the White House, Bush sought to reassure Americans that the government was doing all it could to ensure their safety.

"If we receive specific intelligence that targets a specific building or city or facility, I can assure you our government will do everything possible to protect the citizens," he said.

"I think the American people should take comfort in the fact that their government is doing everything we possibly can do to run down every possible lead, and we take threats seriously."

Exactly a month after the deadliest attack ever on America, U.S. warplanes struck targets around Kabul and the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, causing thousands of civilians to flee.

Heavy explosions rocked the Kabul airport in the first daylight raids on the capital city. The attacks on Kandahar targeted a compound where followers of Osama bin Laden had lived.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said a "full range of weaponry," including 5,000-pound "bunker-buster" bombs, was being used to penetrate underground targets, as well as Taliban command posts and terrorist camps.

The U.S. forces are also dropping cluster bombs that release high-explosive bomblets to kill troops and destroy equipment, officials said.

In London, British defense officials suggested that the military campaign in Afghanistan could run until next summer if the Taliban regime continues to reject U.S. and British demands.

"We must expect to go through the winter and into next summer at the very least, because with winter coming on in November, things will slow down a bit, although action will continue until we achieve our objectives," said Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon.

In Pakistan, government officials said that U.S. military personnel had arrived on the ground and were granted the use of several Pakistani airbases in their efforts to strike at Taliban forces and members of bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

Rumsfeld said U.S. bombing was now aimed at leaders of al-Qaida and the Taliban rulers. The defense secretary said bin Laden was likely still hiding somewhere in Afghanistan.

He acknowledged that the U.S. bombing has yet to eliminate the danger to U.S. planes over Afghanistan and said the United States is working with anti-Taliban forces on the ground to pinpoint threatening military targets.

Five days of bombing have failed to suppress all the anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-air missiles and portable missiles, such as the Stinger, that riddle Afghanistan, the defense secretary said.

"We have to acknowledge the reality that there is still an air defense threat to the United States," Rumsfeld said. "We have been attempting to reduce that."

Yesterday's FBI warning about possible new terrorist attacks was the first to specify publicly that violence could occur within days. Mindy Tucker, the Justice Department spokeswoman, said the warning was not intended to alarm citizens, only to ensure that people were alert to credible threats.

Before the United States attacked targets in Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence sources had been quoted as saying there was a high probability of new terrorist attacks once U.S. airstrikes began.

Yesterday, the administration claimed some success in the global effort to starve terrorists of financial resources. It said $24 million in assets linked to terrorists had been frozen since Sept. 11 by nations around the world, including $4 million in the United States.

"We've just begun," Bush said. "We want the terrorists to know we're after them in all kinds of ways, and one good way to make them ineffective is to cut off their money."

The president also said that authorities investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks - the largest criminal investigation in U.S. history - had interrogated more than 600 people and spent "a great deal of time analyzing information that could lead to the disruption of any potential attack on America."

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