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07 February 2003

U.S. Upgrades Terrorist Threat Warning to Second Highest Level

(Intelligence reports warn of a "high risk" of terrorist attack) (650)
By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States raised its terrorist threat alert to
the second-highest level -- code orange -- based on significant
intelligence reports warning of a "high risk" of a terrorist attack
from the international terrorist group al-Qaeda, Attorney General John
Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said February 7.

Intelligence reports suggest a potential terrorist attack around the
Muslim holy period of the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to the
holy Saudi city of Mecca, which begins February 9, they said at a
Justice Department briefing. President Bush gave the order to raise
the threat alert status from yellow, the third-highest level, to
orange earlier February 7.

"After conferring this morning with the Homeland Security Council, the
decision has been made to increase the threat condition designation,
currently classified at 'elevated' risk, ... to the 'high' risk
category," Ashcroft said. "This decision for an increased threat
condition designation is based on specific intelligence received and
analyzed by the full intelligence community. This information has been
corroborated by multiple intelligence sources."

Ashcroft said recent reporting indicates al-Qaeda may attempt to
attack Americans in the United States and abroad during or at the end
of the Hajj, which continues until mid February.

"Recent intelligence reports suggest that al-Qaeda leaders have
emphasized planning for attacks on apartment buildings, hotels and
other soft or lightly secured targets in the United States," he said.
"The recent bombings of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, and a resort
hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, demonstrate the continued willingness of
al-Qaeda to strike at peaceful, innocent civilians, and their ability
to carry out attacks on such soft or lightly guarded targets."

The recent arrests of terrorists in Britain who were planning to use
the fatal toxin ricin demonstrate al-Qaeda's willingness to use
chemical, biological and radiological weapons, Ashcroft said. There is
also some indication that al-Qaeda might attempt to attack "economic"
targets, such as the transportation and energy sectors as well as some
symbolic targets and other symbols of American power, he said.

The alert level has been at code yellow, or "elevated," since
September 24, 2002. Ridge had announced September 10, 2002, that
President Bush ordered the level raised to "high" risk to coincide
with the first anniversary of the original terrorist attacks on the
United States September 11, 2001, but then lowered it about two weeks
later.

Ridge said this increased threat level is being communicated to
federal, state and local officials, and health care officials across
the United States.

"The call that we've made today, which Americans have certainly heard
before, is based on our knowledge and our conviction that heightened
awareness and readiness deters terrorism and saves lives," Ridge said.

The terrorist threat alert system, developed by Ridge shortly after
September 11th, is based on a five-point, color-coded scale. Code
green indicates the lowest risk level, while code blue indicates a
guarded general risk, code yellow an elevated threat, code orange a
high risk, and code red indicates severe risk of terrorist attacks.

The terrorist alert system couples the threat level with protective
measures that will be taken by the U.S. government to reduce the
country's vulnerabilities.

The code orange alert level calls for a number of government and
private-sector responses. These include:

-- requiring the federal government to coordinate necessary security
efforts with state and local law enforcement agencies as well as the
National Guard,

-- requiring government and private-sector officials to take
additional precautions at public events and possibly consider
alternative venues or cancellations,

-- requiring government agencies to prepare to work at alternate sites
or with a dispersed work force, and

-- requiring government security personnel to restrict access to
threatened facilities to essential personnel only.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)