WASHINGTON – The United States remains at code orange — signifying a high risk of terror attack — but so far remains terror-free, law enforcement officials said Thursday.
Nonetheless, the high alert status, raised two days before the war in Iraq started, will not be lowered as long as hostilities continue.
The terror alert level was raised on March 17 after President Bush gave an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein and his two sons to leave Iraq in 48 hours or face an invasion by the coalition of the willing. The threat level was raised from yellow, or elevated, on the five-color scale.
As promised, the invasion started two days later. But law enforcement at home has not seen the dreaded response — a coordinated terror attack or a "lone wolf" operation — or even any evidence of an attack in the planning stages.
The terrorist "chatter" that U.S. intelligence services monitor continues but nothing in it suggests an attack is coming, law enforcement officials say. An earlier tip saying Iraqis armed with chemical weapons were attempting to slip across the U.S. border from Mexico proved to be false.
But officials still worry since Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden, Iraqi officials and other Muslim extremists have called for a jihad, or holy war against the United States.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and other U.S. officials are also convinced a "hidden network of cold-blooded killers" is operating on U.S. soil, and authorities continue to seek out several terror suspects.
The FBI is on a worldwide manhunt for Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a suspected Al Qaeda terrorist who has lived in Florida. The bureau is also looking for Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who is suspected of possible links to terrorist activities. Earlier reports had her listed as detained in Karachi, Pakistan, but FBI officials said those reports were wrong.
Officials are working with law enforcement overseas to prevent attacks on American interests. Last week, four Iraqis were arrested by Jordanian officials for plotting to blow up a luxury hotel in Amman frequented by Americans and other westerners. Those same suspects are accused of trying to poison water used by U.S. troops. Another plot was thwarted in Yemen, officials said.
U.S. authorities say that assistance from Iraqis in the United States has helped to uncover information to aid the troops in the battlefield. In congressional testimony Tuesday, Ashcroft said some of the interviews the FBI has conducted with 9,000 Iraqis in the United States revealed the locations of bunkers, tunnel systems, telecommunications networks, manufacturing plants and military installations in Iraq.
"We appreciate the valuable information we have gained from the cooperation of the Iraqi community in the United States," Ashcroft said.
The FBI is continuing those interviews, seeking out another 2,000 Iraqis, who along with those already interviewed, are believed to have traveled recently to Iraq or have some sort of ties to the Iraqi military.
"Within a matter of days, we'll have that completed," FBI spokeswoman Susan Dryden said of the interviews.
About 40 of the 9,000 who were interviewed have been detained, mostly for visa violations. None has been arrested on criminal charges or as suspected terrorists.
Other Iraqis suspected of ties to terrorist groups or Saddam Hussein have been under surveillance since the war began. But despite the connection President Bush has tried to make between Iraq and Al Qaeda, officials say concern at home remains fixed on the latter, and their operations could continue unrelated to the war or the fall of Saddam's regime.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.