- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 16, 2002

The FBI says al Qaeda terrorists might be planning "spectacular attacks" against landmarks, and aviation, petroleum and nuclear targets in this country in a bid to damage the economy, cause mass casualties and inflict "maximum psychological trauma."
In an unusually dire warning issued late Thursday night, the FBI said the al Qaeda network, weakened by months of war in Afghanistan and the death of several key leaders, could also engage in small-scale terrorist operations against softer targets, using "sleeper cells" already in this country to attack with truck bombs, commercial or private aircraft, small boats, or "explosives easily concealed and planted by terrorist operatives."
At the White House, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice described the warning as a "summary of intelligence" gathered by U.S. officials and said the Bush administration believed it was "important that Americans know when this sort of thing" is uncovered.
"We would ask Americans to do what the president has asked them a number of times to do which is remain vigilant, because the American people are in many ways the first line of defense," Miss Rice said during a press briefing. "There have been many cases in which Americans who were alert to suspicious circumstances around them have been able to tip law enforcement officials."
She also said efforts were under way to bring additional protective measures, particularly to critical infrastructure locations around the country, working with both public and private entities, and at the federal, state and local levels. She did not elaborate, noting that the terrorist threats were not specific.
"One of the reasons we have different sources of information that we did not have is that we have some of those people in custody, who are informing us about how al Qaeda operates, about what various things might mean," she said. "This is a war on terrorism that is going to be ongoing for a long time, but that it is being fought very aggressively and will continue to be fought very aggressively."
The warning came as U.S. authorities captured one of al Qaeda's top operatives, believed to have been involved in the September 11 attacks. The terrorist was not identified, although authorities said it was not Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, operational leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed or bin Laden's son, Saad.
Other senior al Qaeda leaders already in U.S. custody are Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi Binalshibh, who were caught in separate operations in Pakistan earlier this year. They are being interrogated at an undisclosed location.
Despite the FBI warning, the White House opted yesterday to keep the nation's official terrorist-threat level at "Code Yellow," citing a lack of specific information about the time, date, location or method of any terrorist attack.
"We continue to be on high levels of alert. We continue to take additional precautions," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
The FBI warning was issued after the broadcast Tuesday by the Al Jazeera satellite-television network of an audiotaped message purported to be from bin Laden, the leader of the al Qaeda network.
On the tape, the speaker praised the recent attacks against U.S. interests worldwide, including firearms attacks against U.S. Marines in Kuwait, the fatal shooting of an American diplomat in Jordan, the bombing of a nightclub district in Bali, the attempted sinking of the French oil tanker Limburg and the taking of hostages by Chechen guerrillas at a Moscow theater.
The speaker, whom most intelligence analysts believe was bin Laden, also threatened further attacks against the United States and its allies should the United States invade Iraq. The tape is being analyzed by U.S. intelligence officials to determine its authenticity.
The newest FBI warning follows several others in the past few months, including one issued earlier this week regarding terrorist attacks at hospitals in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston and Washington.
But the level of concern has been ratcheted up in the past few days because of an increase in the "chatter" being monitored on various intelligence channels and the United States' focus on Iraq.
Last week, the State Department also warned that the execution Thursday night of Pakistani Aimal Khan Kasi in Virginia for killing two persons outside the CIA's Langley headquarters could lead to reprisals against U.S. targets. Four U.S. oil workers were killed in 1997 in Karachi, Pakistan, after Kasi's conviction.

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