- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

A nation preparing for the holidays is on high alert for potential terrorist attacks that Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge yesterday said might “rival or exceed September 11.”

Mr. Ridge upgraded the alert level from yellow, meaning “elevated,” to orange, for “high,” during a hastily called press conference, citing intelligence reports of a “near-term” attack that again could involve airplanes as weapons.

“The strategic indicators, including al Qaeda’s continued desire to carry out attacks against our homeland, are perhaps greater now than at any point since September 11,” Mr. Ridge said.

“The information we have indicates that extremists abroad are anticipating near-term attacks that they believe will either rival or exceed the attacks that occurred in New York, in the Pentagon, in the fields of Pennsylvania nearly two years ago,” Mr. Ridge said.

“No nexus” exists between the increased level of security and the capture last week of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Mr. Ridge said.

Washington and New York are the “predictable” targets, but security also is being increased across the nation in major airports, nuclear plants, major bridges, dams and along the nation’s borders.

Americans were urged to stick to their holiday and travel plans and were promised that “extensive and considerable protections” are being put in place.

“We will redeploy agents and other resources at our borders to meet the current threat. There will be more Coast Guard air and sea patrols off our shores, in our ports and escorting ships,” Mr. Ridge said.

Mr. Ridge urged families to “enjoy the spirit of the season,” but said an emergency plan also should be developed.

“I have said many times before that homeland security begins at home. I guess it means I’m saying it again. Your awareness and vigilance can help tremendously. So please use your common sense and report suspicious packages, vehicles or activities to local law enforcement. Go over your family emergency plans, and if you haven’t developed one by now, please do so,” Mr. Ridge said.

Officials say terrorists constantly are evaluating security procedures, both in the United States and elsewhere, to find gaps that can be exploited.

The Transportation Security Administration said increased security will mean parking restrictions and random vehicle inspections at airports and the possibility of longer security check-in times.

Passengers should keep their laptop computers out of suitcases for inspection and should be prepared to remove their coats and shoes.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said administration officials are taking these intelligence tips “very, very seriously.”

“There is no doubt, from all the intelligence we pick up from al Qaeda, that they want to do away with our way of life,” Gen. Myers said.

“If they could cause another catastrophic event, a tragedy like September 11 … if they could get their hands on weapons of mass destruction and make it 10,000, not 3,000, they would do that,” Gen. Myers said.

The FBI sent thousands of alerts to local and state officials asking them to review security measures.

“I can assure you that your government will stand at the ready, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to stop terrorism during the holiday season and beyond,” Mr. Ridge said.

Administration officials initially said Friday the alert status would not be changed, but told law enforcement to be particularly vigilant over the holidays. The State Department also advised on Wednesday that Americans leave Saudi Arabia.

This is the fourth high alert issued this year and was prompted by “substantial increase in the volume of threat-related intelligence reports,” Mr. Ridge said. The nation has been on elevated status since May. The highest alert, “red” for severe, never has been activated.

“There is no doubt that those of us fortunate to live in this country have a lot to be thankful for, not the least of which is the opportunity to live in the greatest country in the world. America is a country that will not be bent by terror. America is a country that will not be broken by fear. And instead, America is a country blessed with citizens marked by good will and great resolve,” he said.

“We will show the terrorists both during this holiday season: good will toward our fellow men and readiness and resolve to protect our families and our freedoms,” Mr. Ridge said.


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