High alert declared because of threats to overseas targets

Data `very consistent' with that before attacks

Stick to routines, officials urge

2001 9/11 2002

One Year

September 11, 2002|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration put the nation on heightened alert yesterday, responding to what it called information from an al-Qaida operative that terrorists planned possible attacks on U.S. targets overseas on the Sept. 11 anniversary.

The government closed nine U.S. embassies in Asia and the Middle East, in addition to other diplomatic posts overseas. Officials also tightened security at federal buildings, as well as at military bases at home and abroad.

Vice President Dick Cheney canceled a speech he was to give tonight and was taken to an undisclosed location. And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered live anti-aircraft missiles positioned with launchers that had been deployed around Washington for a training exercise.

"We have no specific threat to America, but we're taking everything seriously," President Bush said.

Taken together, the steps served to increase tension in the nation's capital on the eve of the Sept. 11 anniversary.

At the same time, the White House said Bush would stick to his schedule for today, when he is to visit the three sites of the terrorist attacks, in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Officials urged Americans to go about their normal business and to attend memorials and events as planned.

"We once again call on the American people to remain alert but defiant in the face of this new threat," Attorney General John Ashcroft said. "We really hope that by being alert and by having elevated security, that we default the attempt of any terrorist activities."

Bush and Ashcroft said U.S. intelligence agencies had detected additional information that is "very consistent" with what was picked up before the attacks last Sept. 11. They said that the new information focuses on the likelihood of attacks on U.S. interests overseas, as did information that was picked up last year before the World Trade Center and Pentagon were struck.

"The threats that we have heard recently remind us of the pattern of threats we heard prior to September the 11th," the president said.

In announcing the heightened terror alert, the administration raised the threat level from code "yellow," or "elevated risk," to "orange," which signifies a "high risk" of a terrorist attack. It is the highest level declared since the administration put the system in place six months ago. The top level, red, represents a "severe risk."

Officials said the information that led to the heightened alert came from a senior al-Qaida operative and pointed to a threat of attacks in Southeast Asia to coincide with the Sept. 11 anniversary. That al-Qaida member is said to be in the custody of another country.

Officials said al-Qaida cells have regrouped during the past year in several Southeast Asian countries and might be planning to set off car bombs and other explosives against U.S. facilities in the region.

Intelligence reports, Ashcroft said, indicate that al-Qaida cells in Southeast Asia have been accumulating explosives since January.

U.S. intelligence officials have also received separate information that terrorists in the Middle East might be planning to attack U.S. symbols or property there, the attorney general said.

State and federal agencies began taking precautions yesterday in response to the heightened state of alert. Tom Ridge, the director of homeland security, said every available air marshal would be flying for the next several days.

The State Department issued a "worldwide caution" to Americans abroad, and the Coast Guard increased patrols and inspections.

Ashcroft said that based on intelligence reports, the most likely targets of terrorists, in addition to embassies, military bases and federal buildings, are transportation and energy facilities.

In preparation for the anni- versary of the attacks, the Pentagon began a five-day air defense exercise, which as of yesterday will be conducted using live anti-aircraft missiles.

Security at the Pentagon and military bases worldwide had already been heightened because of the Sept. 11 anniversary. On Friday, the military established 24-hour fighter jet patrols over New York City and Washington.

Until yesterday, the nation's terror alert warning system had remained at yellow since it was implemented in March, despite several warnings throughout the spring and summer.

In April the FBI warned about possible terrorist plans to attack banks and financial institutions on the East Coast, and also warned about possible attacks on nuclear power plants over the spring.

In July, several warnings were issued around July 4, and small airports were told to watch for suspicious people and activity.

Much of the information that has led to such warnings came from Abu Zubaydah, a senior member of al-Qaida who was captured in Pakistan in March. He has been interrogated in an unknown location ever since.

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