- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday urged law-enforcement agencies nationwide to go on a heightened state of alert, while warning oil and gas companies, trucking firms, railroads and utilities including water and nuclear power plants to guard against terrorist attacks.
"We are taking strong precautions and other appropriate steps to protect the American people while we win this war," Mr. Ashcroft said during a Justice Department briefing, as the United States began a second round of military strikes against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.
The alert was issued while the FBI continued the largest investigation in U.S. history to track down accomplices in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed more than 5,000 people.
Mr. Ashcroft said 614 persons have been arrested so far, including 165 on immigration violations, and the FBI continues to hunt down another 229 who are either suspects or are wanted for questioning.
"Our national law-enforcement network, involving millions of Americans, will continue working around the clock to find the people who were involved in the Sept. 11 attacks and to disrupt any future plans for terrorism in America," Mr. Ashcroft said. "Every American should be vigilant, and we're counting on each American to help us defend our nation in this war."
Mr. Ashcroft advised 18,000 federal, state and local law-enforcement authorities to be "on the highest level of alert" to guard against possible retaliatory attacks. He said the agencies have been asked to evaluate whether the current threat level warrants more local security measures.
He said similar warnings went to 27,000 security managers at private companies, including those in telecommunications, electrical power generation and distribution, information technology, banks and financial institutions, oil and gas companies, water service providers, railroad companies and nuclear power plants.
"We want secure operations. We do not want to cease operations," he said.
Mr. Ashcroft also said the Environmental Protection Agency will evaluate industrial chemical and petrochemical facilities; the Federal Aviation Administration will continue restrictions to defend populated areas, sporting events and "certain critical infrastructure components of our industrial base"; and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has implemented a heightened border security plan.
The Coast Guard also has put into action its largest mobilization since World War II, raising from 51 to 72 the number of security zones it will maintain around nuclear power plants and piers where oil is loaded or unloaded.
The Coast Guard also has increased its presence around U.S. Navy ships in port in this country, along with its own vessels, and is checking the crews, passengers and cargo manifests of several inbound ships at East and West coast ports.
The nation's airports also remain on "heightened alert," with National Guard units assigned to guard several terminals.
U.S. fighter jets have been assigned to combat patrols over major cities, prepared to escort aircraft that declare emergencies or in the worst-case scenario shoot down those that have been hijacked and are headed to specific targets, authorities said.
Mr. Ashcroft declined to say whether any specific threats had been made or received by federal authorities since U.S. military action began Sunday. He said he was "not prepared, nor will we get into a situation where we try to outline all the threats that may or may not come to the United States on a regular basis."
The attorney general, appearing grim but resolute during the briefing, also described bin Laden as the "face of evil." He said a videotape the fugitive terrorist released Sunday warning of additional attacks should leave no doubt that "America's actions of self-defense are justified." Bin Laden has been identified as the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Although we must be aware of the heightened risk, we must not let that risk affect the freedom that makes America great," Mr. Ashcroft said. "While we must be attentive to the threat, we must not yield to fear. The president pledged that America would not waver, would not tire, would not falter, would not fail.

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