New information indicates attacks in US
US Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Wednesday new information indicates terrorists are planning an attack on America, possibly connected to high-profile upcoming events such as the dedication of a new World War II monument, economic summit and political conventions.
"I can confirm that we have seen for the past several weeks a continuous stream of reporting that talks about the possibility of attacks on the United States," Ridge said.
Appearing on morning television news shows in advance of a news conference later Wednesday by Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller, Ridge said of potential terrorists on U.S. soil: "It's our job, obviously, to try to identify who they are and apprehend them."
Ashcroft and Mueller were expected to draw new attention to photos of several suspected al-Qaida operatives the FBI has been pursuing for months. They include Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a Saudi native who once lived in Florida, and Aafia Siddiqui, a woman from Pakistan who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A federal law enforcement official, speaking Wednesday on condition of anonymity, said there was no new information indicating those individuals were in the United States. But ratcheting up publicity about them could lead investigators to some of their associates who remain in the country, the official said.
U.S. counterterrorism and law enforcement officials said Tuesday that new intelligence indicates a group of terrorists already deployed inside the United States is preparing to launch a major attack this summer. This information was described by a senior counterterrorism official on condition of anonymity as extremely credible and backed by an unusually high level of corroboration.
But Ridge, interviewed on NBC's "Today" show, said there are no current plans to lift the national alert status from yellow, where it has stood since January. That's the midlevel alert level on a five-step warning program.
"First of all, every day we take a look at the overall threat reporting that we receive," Ridge said. "There's not a consensus within the administration that we need to raise the threat level. ... We do not need to raise the threat level to increase security. Right now, there's no need to put the entire country on a (elevated) national alert."
The intelligence does not include a time, place or method of attack but is among the most disturbing received by the government since the al-Qaida attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the senior counterterrorism official said.
"There is clearly a steady drumbeat of information that they are going to attack and hit us hard," the official said.
Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said the agency will remind travelers to be on the alert for suspicious behavior or unattended packages. The TSA is holding press events in 43 cities this week to reinforce that message and to reemphasize ways to expedite airport security screening.
"We're encouraging passengers, in light of the latest development, to be vigilant of their surroundings," Clark said.
Beginning with Saturday's dedication of the new World War II Memorial in Washington, the summer presents a number of high-profile targets in the United States. They include the G-8 summit in Georgia next month that will attract top officials from some of America's closest allies, plus the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July and the Republican National Convention in August in New York City.
The FBI and Homeland Security Department also are concerned about so-called soft targets such as shopping malls anywhere in the United States that offer a far less protected environment than a political convention hall.
Of special concern, the counterterrorism official said, is the possibility that terrorists may possess and use a chemical, biological or radiological weapon that could cause much more damage and casualties than a conventional bomb.
Los Angeles police held a news conference Tuesday to reassure the public.
"We would be foolhardy to ignore those statements, but I think it would be irresponsible to panic," said John Miller, head of the LAPD counterterrorism bureau.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said city officials had not been advised that terrorists were plotting an attack there.
"We are receiving highly sensitive intelligence information on a regular basis, including today, and there is nothing in that reporting to indicate a specific threat or looming attack against New York City," Kelly said in a statement late Tuesday.
U.S. authorities have said repeatedly that al-Qaida is determined to mount an attack on U.S. soil, in part to announce to the world that it remains capable of doing so despite the money and effort that has gone into homeland security since the Sept. 11 attacks.
There also is concern terrorists might try to mount an attack to coincide with the November election. The political fallout from the March 11 train bombings in Spain taught al-Qaida that an attack timed to an election can have a major impact. Spain's former ruling party was ousted in the voting that followed the bombing, which killed 191 and injured more than 2,000.
Special security attention already is being focused to the nation's rail, subway and bus lines.