- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

New information from a senior al Qaeda operative now being held by a foreign government prompted the unprecedented triggering of an alert system that characterizes the danger of a terrorist attack as high.

"The threat information was conveyed in the past several days" even though the official who had the information has been in foreign custody for several months, said a U.S. official familiar with the details of the report.

The senior al Qaeda member who supplied the information was not identified but was described as a close aide to Osama bin Laden, the U.S. official said.

Officials said the source was not Abu Zubaydah, an al Qaeda operations chief arrested in Pakistan in March, or Yazid Suffat, a former Malaysian army officer and al Qaeda member in Southeast Asia who has been in jail since December.

"It is not a name that you would easily recognize," the U.S. official said.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, in announcing the alert, told reporters that the new information was obtained "very recently" and bolstered other information indicating terrorists were planning an attack.

"Within the last 24 hours we have had additional information that's been very, very valuable to us and significant," Mr. Ashcroft said.

Asked about past data from captured al Qaeda members that proved unreliable, Mr. Ashcroft said: "Well, we believe this to be credible information. And the analysis that has been undertaken by the intelligence agencies leads us to conclude that the steps we are taking are appropriate steps in the national interest."

The al Qaeda informant revealed that the likely target of a terrorist attack will be a U.S. facility or person, such as an embassy or military facility, a U.S. official said. The informant had not shared the information earlier but only made it available in the past several days.

The threat information focused on a possible attack in the Southeast Asia region.

The informant had no information about possible terrorist attacks inside the United States.

Mr. Ashcroft said the new information stated that one or more people in the Middle East are set to carry out a suicide or other attack against the United States.

There is no specific information on where the attacks would take place, he said.

"The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the most likely targets of al Qaeda attacks are the transportation and energy sectors and facilities or gatherings that would be recognized worldwide as symbols of American power or security," Mr. Ashcroft said.

The symbols include military facilities, U.S. embassies and national monuments, he said.

In response to the threat, the State Department has closed embassies in Indonesia, Bahrain, Vietnam, Pakistan, Malaysia, Cambodia, Malawi, Tajikistan and the United Arab Emirates.

"In addition, U.S. intelligence has concluded that lower-level al Qaeda operatives may view the September 11 anniversary as a suitable time to lash out in even small strikes to demonstrate their worldwide presence and resolve," Mr. Ashcroft said. "Accordingly, widely dispersed, unsophisticated strikes are possible, as well."

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