- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2003


The Department of Homeland Security has told airlines and law-enforcement agencies that al Qaeda may attempt new suicide hijackings sometime during the next few months.

The vague warning came from information gleaned from interviews of at least one al-Qaeda prisoner, as well as intercepted communications, said one intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“We continue to investigate this information to determine its level of credibility,” said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

There was no specific information on any potential targets, nor did officials know who in al Qaeda might attempt any attacks. The officials said al Qaeda could launch strikes in the United States or Europe. There was no specific date, only a general sense that an attack could take place in the late summer, officials said.

“The intelligence community continues to receive information about al Qaeda’s interest in using the commercial aviation system,” Mr. Johndroe said. “Because of this, the Department of Homeland Security issued an advisory this weekend to the nation’s airlines and law-enforcement personnel.”

FBI Director Robert Mueller did not mention the new warnings in a speech in Arlington before about 1,000 police officers, firefighters and others who would be among the first to respond in an attack. Mr. Mueller said the United States is safer today than it was September 11, but a threat of terrorism still remains.

“The challenge for us is to recognize the threat is continuous out there, and to do everything we can to prevent the next attack,” Mr. Mueller said. “The oceans that separate the United States are not sufficient to prevent other attacks.”

The warning was not provided to the general public, but officials acknowledged its distribution in response to queries.

“We advised airline and law-enforcement personnel to take a look at all their practices and initiate additional measures they may feel are necessary,” Mr. Johndroe said.

The information points toward a September 11-style attack using hijacked planes as weapons, rather than a traditional hijacking, officials said.

House and Senate negotiators last week approved an agreement to arm cargo pilots as part of a Federal Aviation Administration funding bill.

Lawmakers are expected to pass the bill in September.

Congress last year voted to give weapons to passenger airline pilots but not their counterparts on cargo planes. The first 44 airline pilots were trained in April to use weapons in the cockpit and an undisclosed number of pilots were trained this month.

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