Intelligence officials get tip on terrorism attack in U.S.

Information suggesting plot called vague

officials are not raising alert level

May 26, 2004|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- U.S. intelligence officials have received information suggesting that al-Qaida might be plotting an attack in the United States this summer to coincide with one or more major public events, a senior U.S. official said last night.

The intelligence includes no specific information, the official said, such as a date, place or method of a possible attack. Nor does it indicate how well-formed, if at all, any plot might be. Because of the vagueness of the information, officials said they have no plans to raise the nation's terror alert level.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III plan to hold a news conference today to discuss efforts to detect and prevent terrorist activity.

"There is information that leads us to be concerned that in the coming months, particularly because of special events, al-Qaida could be planning an attack," the official said.

Such events include political conventions in Boston and New York, the G-8 Summit in Georgia and the dedication of the World War II memorial this weekend in Washington.

Counterterrorism officials remain concerned that al-Qaida or other terrorist operatives are operating within U.S. borders and might use their presence here to circumvent the heightened security measures that have been in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the new intelligence appears to be credible.

Counterterrorism officials have issued similar warnings in the past when new information about possible terror plots has come to light. In most cases, officials simultaneously raised the nation's terror alert level.

But an official at the Department of Homeland Security said last night that the alert level was evaluated yesterday, as it is daily, and remains at yellow, or "elevated" threat of attack. The official said the department knew of no "new, specific information" about terrorist plots.

"We know we are a top target and we are entering a season this summer of symbolic events that could prove attractive to terrorists," the homeland security official said. "At this point, we are continuing to monitor" any signs of terrorist activity.

If government officials decide to raise the alert level, the senior official said it would likely be raised only for an area thought be targeted, not the nation.

The FBI is alerting local law enforcement agencies of the possible increased threat, the senior official said, and will ask citizens to report any suspicious activity. In recent weeks, officials have tightened security on rail lines and train stations.

Officials are particularly concerned that terrorists might try to launch a biological or chemical attack, or possibly try to launch a radioactive "dirty bomb." Some detained terror suspects have alerted interrogators that al-Qaida has long desired to use such weapons.

The terror alert has remained at yellow since the holiday season, when officials raised the level to orange, or "high."

When the threat level was lowered back again in January, several counterterrorism officials said they were surprised that no attack had occurred. Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security, speculated that raising the alert and warning citizens might have dissuaded al-Qaida from carrying out an attack, but he said there was no way to know for sure.

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