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U.S. plans anti-terror steps after attack warning

(Bloomberg News circulated the following article on May 26.)

NEW YORK-- The U.S. will outline anti-terrorism measures the government is planning after intelligence reports said al-Qaeda may attack a U.S. target in coming months.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. Washington time today to discuss counterterrorism efforts, FBI spokeswoman Donna Spiser said yesterday.

Intelligence officials said yesterday there is information that al-Qaeda and other terrorists are in the U.S. and are preparing an attack, perhaps during the U.S. summer, the Associated Press reported. Spiser declined to comment on the reports of a terrorist plot.

There are 18,000 potential terrorists at large and recruitment by groups is accelerating because of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the International Institute for Strategic Studies said yesterday in its annual survey.

The information gathered by the U.S. doesn't include a time, place, target or details about the method of the attack, AP said, citing an unidentified intelligence official. The intelligence indicates that terrorists may have and plan to use a chemical, biological or radiological weapon, AP said, citing the official.

Alert Level

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said this morning on Fox News' ``Fox & Friends'' program that ``several reports, some of which we have deemed credible,'' point to an attack on the U.S. ``Again, there's no specific information telling us the form of the attack, when it will occur, where it will occur,'' Ridge said.

Appearing on NBC's ``Today'' show, Ridge said the stream of threat reports is ``not unlike what we've seen in the past several years.''

Ridge said there are no plans to raise the nation's terror alert level, currently at ``elevated,'' or yellow, the middle of the five-color threat alert scale. ``There is absolutely nothing specific enough that rises to the level where we would presently, today, as we speak, make the recommendation to the president to raise the threat level,'' he said on ``Today.''

The Homeland Security Department and the FBI alert law enforcement agencies to be on the watch for terrorist attacks when they receive credible intelligence. Last week, U.S. officials warned that suicide bombers may strike within the U.S. and rail agencies were directed to step up security.

The New York City Police Department, in a statement, said there is nothing in the recent reports ``to indicate a specific threat or looming attack against New York City,'' a target of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Still, the statement said, the department ``is taking all necessary precautions'' under the assumption that al-Qaeda still sees the city as a target.

Al-Qaeda Training

As many as 20,000 jihadists, or Muslims recruited to fight a holy war, were trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan since 1996, the International Institute for Strategic Studies said.

``Although half of al-Qaeda's 30 senior leaders and perhaps 2,000 rank-and-file members have been killed or captured, a rump leadership is still intact and over 18,000 potential terrorists at large, with recruitment accelerating on account of Iraq,'' the report said. ``Al-Qaeda will keep trying to develop more promising plans for terrorist operations in North America and Europe, ideally involving weapons of mass destruction.''

An al-Qaeda linked group said it carried out attacks on commuter trains in Madrid in March that killed 191 people, citing Spain's involvement with the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

The war in Iraq has increased the risk of terrorism, John Chipman, director of the International Institute, said yesterday.

``The Iraq intervention was always likely in the short term to enhance jihadist recruitment and intensify al-Qaeda's motivation,'' Chipman said in London.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

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