- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday warned Americans of possible new terrorist strikes over the next few days, although he gave no information on the intended targets or how the attacks would be carried out.
"The administration has concluded, based on information developed, that there may be additional terrorist attacks within the United States and against U.S. interests over the next week," Mr. Ashcroft said at a late-afternoon press conference to announce that 18,000 police agencies had once again been placed on the "highest alert."
"The administration views this information as credible, but unfortunately it does not contain specific information as to the type of attack or specific targets," he said, adding that the warning "should be taken seriously." One official later said the warning was based on intelligence about Osama bin laden's al Qaeda network.
In another anti-terrorism move yesterday, President Bush announced the United States will crack down on student visas going to foreigners and will create a new task force, led by Mr. Ashcroft, to track international terrorists.
Presiding for the first time over a White House meeting of the Homeland Security Council, Mr. Bush said the "Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force" will focus on locating, detaining, prosecuting and deporting terrorists.
The president also issued a directive to institute tighter controls on student visas after reports that nine of the 19 hijackers who crashed jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon legally entered the United States on visas many of them to study here.
"We plan on making sure that if a person has applied for a student visa, they actually go to college or a university. And therefore we're going to start asking a lot of questions that heretofore have not been asked. We're going to tighten up the visa policy," Mr. Bush said. "Sometimes people come here with no intention to fulfill their purpose. And when we find those, they will be escorted out of the United States."
The president dodged a reporter's question about why the United States did not already monitor foreigners allowed into the country on student visas.
"Never did we realize then that people would take advantage of our generosity to the extent they have. Our job now is to find the evil ones and to bring them to justice," he said.
Yesterday's announcement marks a change of focus for the Bush administration.
Before the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush had been pushing to ease immigration rules to give "guest-worker" status to illegal Mexicans as many as 3 million in the United States.
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, who joined the attorney general for the announcement of the alert, said the warning was based on what he called "new information" about possible attacks.
He also acknowledged that the information was "not specific as to intended target or intended method."
But one senior U.S. official later said the warning was based in part on intelligence that al Qaeda may be agitating to strike again in the aftermath of the U.S.-led bombings on Afghanistan.
"There certainly is intelligence that causes you to be concerned, and possibly that al Qaeda may be behind it," the official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Both Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Mueller said the attacks could come in the next week. Federal law-enforcement authorities have been privately concerned about an increase in anthrax letters nationwide and also about the possible use of car and truck bombs, although no specific threats have been identified.
It was the second time this month the FBI has made public its notice to law enforcement agencies to be on the highest state of alert in the wake of information about pending terrorist strikes.
A similar warning was issued Oct. 11, which said the FBI had "certain information" that additional attacks could occur within days. That was the same week a rash of anthrax-laced letters began to appear in Florida and later in New York and Washington, although the FBI has not determined if the warning and the anthrax letters were related.
Mr. Ashcroft, who canceled plans to attend a conference of police chiefs today in Toronto, told reporters the new warning was also made public because Americans are smart enough to "make good judgments" about what to do with the information.
He said citizens should be patient if they encounter additional security measures by state and local authorities, and he urged Americans "in the course of their normal activities to remain alert and to report unusual circumstances and inappropriate behavior to the appropriate authorities."
Mr. Ashcroft also said Tom Ridge, director of homeland security, has called governors across the country to discuss the heightened state of security and to tell them to "take appropriate precautions based upon security assessments" in their home states.
Mr. Mueller said the alert to law-enforcement agencies asking them to "remain extremely vigilant" gives the FBI additional manpower that could prevent another terrorist attack.
He was not sure that the Oct. 11 alert had prevented any strikes against U.S. targets, but he said "it may well have helped."
In announcing the crackdown on student visas, Mr. Bush stopped short of endorsing some congressional calls for a six-month moratorium on new foreign student visas until a system for tracking them can be implemented.
"We welcome legal immigrants," Mr. Bush said. "We welcome the process that encourages people to come to our country to visit, to study or to work."
Set to be up and running by Thursday, the task force will not only target aliens who may already be in America planning terrorist attacks, but also deal with immigration, according to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
"Obviously, on September 11 a group of alien terrorists got into our nation and attacked the Pentagon and World Trade Center. So obviously there's a need for tightening up," Mr. Fleischer said. "The president believes that the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force can do its best to prevent any future episodes."
Mr. Bush himself is putting on a brave face. Yesterday, he visited the State Department, where trace amounts of anthrax have been discovered among letters in its mailroom.
"Secret Service knew about that prior to the president going over there," Mr. Fleischer said. "It did not pose any problem for the president or his traveling party."
Meanwhile, the White House announced that the president will attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Nov. 10 and 11, where he will meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the anti-terrorism effort.
After their meeting, Mr. Bush will have dinner with Mr. Musharraf.
Said the White House: "Pakistan has strongly supported the United States in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. This meeting is an important step in President Bush's efforts to sustain a strong international coalition in the war against terrorism."
The annual gathering of world leaders, originally scheduled for Sept. 24 to Oct. 5, was postponed because of security difficulties in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
Mr. Bush will attend the General Assembly's debate, deliver a speech, attend a lunch hosted by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and meet separately with several world leaders.


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