U.S. Officials: Potential High for Another Attack
WASHINGTON – U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials believe the potential remains high for another terror attack although the Muslim holiday that prompted their most recent warning is passing.
Their unease is keeping the warning the Bush administration issued this month in effect at least through the current Jewish and Christian holiday seasons.
"The alert remains in effect because the threat still remains," Homeland Security Office spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Tuesday.
Law enforcement and intelligence officials, who spoke to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity, said raw intelligence on potential threats has continued to flow into U.S. agencies since the Dec. 3 warning.
The information is not specific as to timeframe, potential targets or methods of attacks but makes clear terrorists sympathetic to Osama bin Laden are agitating to strike, the officials said.
The heightened security across the globe is believed to have disrupted some suspected terrorists but they remain on the loose, the officials added.
There are no immediate plans to issue a new FBI warning. Officials simply plan to get the word out that the most recent warning still applies and Americans on U.S. soil and overseas need to remain alert to suspicious activity, the officials said.
The message from government over the holidays is "not to let down your guard one bit. There are terrorists whose plans might have been disrupted who remain at large and are looking for the opportunity," one senior U.S. official said.
In its third such warning since Sept. 11, the FBI early in December warned Americans and law enforcement to be at their highest alert through Ramadan, a holy month during which Muslims fast during daytime, and the Christian holidays.
The warning was based on intelligence that attacks were being planned, possibly to coincide with Ramadan, officials have said.
Muslims are currently celebrating Eid al-Fitr, a three-day festival that began Sunday and marks the end of the holy lunar month.
The officials said the current threat assessment remains high because:
--Information continues to flow in from around the world of potential threats and plots from alleged al-Qaida supporters.
--Other sympathetic terrorist groups are believed to be looking for the chance to strike back for the devastating U.S. attacks that drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan and for the U.S. support of Israel's recent crackdown on Palestinians.
--Some intelligence analysts believe bin Laden already may have set in motion plans for attacks in case he is killed or captured by Americans.
In addition, bin Laden supporters traditionally have viewed the end of Ramadan as a period of maximum opportunity to strike the United States, officials said.
The videotape released last week of bin Laden has heightened those concerns.
In it, a visitor with bin Laden is quoted as calling the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings a "clear victory" and predicting Allah will provide "more victory during the holy month of Ramadan."
In recent weeks, U.S. officials also have raised growing concerns about the desire of al-Qaida terrorists to study, obtain and use biochemical or radiological weapons.
Some of their concern has been prompted by new information discovered inside former terrorist safe houses in Afghanistan or from interrogations of captured Taliban and al-Qaida supporters, officials said.
Arrests in Germany and Italy, where prosecutors said they intercepted al-Qaida telephone calls or obtained documents about chemical weapons, have added to the concerns, officials said.
In the meantime, officials say Americans will need to get used to additional warnings in the future and the administration is considering a new way of delivering them.
So far, the government has issued three general warnings since the Sept. 11 attacks. All asked Americans and law enforcement to be on high alert but none identified specific targets.
Homeland security chief Tom Ridge is considering a four-stage system for future alerts that would mirror the military's "DEFCON" system.
The plan, to be implemented early next year, would help local law enforcement react to a terror warning rating the seriousness and imminence of each threat, officials said.