- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Al Qaeda may attempt to launch attacks in U.S. cities using helicopters or rented limousines packed with explosives, the FBI said in two nationwide bulletins.

Terror operatives could attempt to hijack commercial, charter or tourist helicopter flights and use them in suicide attacks against buildings, parades or sporting events, said one of the intelligence bulletins obtained yesterday by the Associated Press.

Helicopters and limousines both could help terrorists get closer to targeted buildings, the FBI warnings said. The warnings were sent Friday night by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department to 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies, other government officials and private groups.

Although the Bush administration’s recent heightened terror alert was confined to financial institutions in New York, Newark, N.J., and Washington, the FBI said al Qaeda was interested in using helicopters to attack “any densely populated area of symbolic, economic or financial importance” in the country.

The other bulletin warns that al Qaeda frequently has used rented cars and trucks for bomb attacks — including the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center — and might do so again.

Limousines, the FBI said, could be especially useful to terrorists because they are larger than regular cars and might draw less suspicion than trucks.

“Limousines often convey an impression of authority or prestige, which may facilitate their access to specific locations in a building or a facility denied to the general public,” the bulletin said.

The FBI says it has no credible, specific evidence about the method, timing or location of any al Qaeda attack inside the country. But the bulletins come amid a steady stream of intelligence indicating that the terror group intends to strike in the months leading up to the Nov. 2 election.

The FBI bulletins also were issued after arrests in Pakistan and Britain of several key al Qaeda operatives and the seizure of computers, computer files and other evidence. U.S. officials say they are hopeful that this information might be critical to disruption of plots that may be in the final stages.

On the helicopter leads, the FBI says it has information indicating that al Qaeda operatives have considered using helicopters packed with explosives in an unspecified attack.

Helicopters, which are difficult to learn how to fly, also might be used to spread chemical or biological agents in the ventilation systems of high-rise buildings, the FBI bulletin said.

“Terrorists may view helicopters as an attractive weapon due to their maneuverability and nonthreatening appearance when flying at low altitudes,” the FBI said.

Police countrywide are being urged by the FBI to pay extra attention to commercial and private helicopter operations and schools. The businesses also are warned to be alert to anyone with undue interest in helicopter payloads and security procedures and to set up screening and identification procedures for passengers and cargo.

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