The government is considering raising the threat level in Washington and New York City and for financial companies, a Homeland Security Department (search) official said Sunday.

Secretary Tom Ridge (search) planned to discuss the alert status at an afternoon news conference at department headquarters. It was not immediately known what intelligence was leading the government to consider such action.

New York's status has remained at orange, indicating a high risk of terrorist attack, since Sept. 11, 2001, and a change to red would not mean dramatic changes in the city, said the Homeland Security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Washington and elsewhere are on yellow, or elevated status of risk; that is in the middle of the five-color scale.

New intelligence that the Al Qaeda terrorist network plans to attack financial or international institutions in New York has led police to urge extra security precautions at various city buildings.

The warning, announced Saturday night, did not say how the attacks might be carried out or when they would occur.

But ABC News, citing anonymous sources, reported Saturday night that Al Qaeda (search) planned to send terrorists across the Mexican border into the United States, and that suicide attacks were being planned in the city, possibly using trucks.

The network said attacks may be planned between now and Election Day. The Republican convention begins in New York on Aug. 30.

A woman with a South African passport was arrested near the U.S.-Mexico border last week when she tried to board a flight to New York with about $7,000 in cash. Officials told The Associated Press they were investigating whether Farida Goolam Mohamed Ahmed, 48, had ties to Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

According to court documents, Ahmed, 48, provided a South African passport that was missing four pages. ABC reported that she was of Pakistani origin.

According to flight itineraries, Ahmed traveled from Johannesburg through Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to London and on to Mexico City. Authorities said she later told them she was smuggled into the United States from Mexico by crossing the Rio Grande.

Kyle Welch, Ahmed's court-appointed attorney, said his client is not charged with any terrorist activity and does not have a criminal record. She was denied bond on Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported last week that authorities believed crime syndicates operating within the South African government were believed to be selling illegal passports for as little as $77 apiece.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told The New York Times for Sunday editions that the warning to bolster security came after talks Friday night and Saturday between Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Pasquale Damuro, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York office.

Police had no additional comment when contacted by The Associated Press on Sunday.

The warning gave tips on general business security measures, such as checking employee identification cards and updating emergency plans.

It also gave some things to look out for, including unanticipated deliveries or maintenance work, people taking unusual video or photographs, and visitors claiming to be lost or looking disoriented. The warning also said bomb threats may be used to evaluate emergency response time.