WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush's homeland security chief asked
Americans to return to a high state of alert Monday, citing threats
of more terrorist attacks, possibly around "important religious
observations" this month.
Federal officials said the alert should continue at least
through the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in
mid-December. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge did not mention
any religious faith but said officials took the "convergence of
different religious observations" into account when they decided
another alert was in order.
"Now is not the time to back off," Ridge said. "Obviously,
the further we're removed from Sept. 11, the natural tendency is to
let down our guard. We cannot do that. We are a nation at war."
Monday's warning, issued by the FBI to law enforcement
nationwide as well as to the general public, was the third since
the hijacker attacks in September and the anthrax letters in
October. The FBI issued the two others on Oct. 11 and Oct. 29.
Ridge did not cite a specific threat, but said U.S. intelligence
had seen an increase in the volume of information warning in
general of more attacks.
"The quantity and level of threats are above the norm," Ridge
said, "and have reached a threshold where we once again should put
the public on general alert."
Bush reviewed the analysts' conclusions and "he approved our
decision to go forward and make the announcement," Ridge said.
Asked if he worried that Americans were becoming jaded by the
repeated alerts, Ridge said the process of warning the public "is
an art, it's not a science. There are shadowy soldiers. This is a
The FBI issued the earlier alerts in the days after the U.S.
military launched airstrikes in Afghanistan web sites Oct. 7, targeting Osama
bin Laden and his Taliban protectors. Bin Laden is the prime
suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ridge urged citizens to view the current alert as "a signal to
be vigilant" and asked that they report suspicious behavior to
Meanwhile, law enforcement officials told The Associated Press
that investigators have gathered evidence showing similarities
among the last three terrorist attacks against Americans by Osama
bin Laden's supporters.
Those attacks include the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings, the
October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen and the 1998 bombings
of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the
similarities included the way the attacks were planned,
communicated and carried out, and the way the attackers were
trained. The officials declined to be more specific.
"There are certainly similarities among the three, some of
which have emerged more clearly in the last few weeks," one
The investigators said they also are examining whether some of
the same people were involved in planning and assisting the three
attacks. One official said authorities are waiting for more
information from authorities in Yemen and other countries about
Attorney General John Ashcroft previewed his appearance Thursday
before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he will confront
criticism about some of the Justice Department's hardline tactics.
"We're going to do what we need to do to protect the American
people," Ashcroft said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" when asked
whether restrictions designed in the 1970s to protect religious and
political groups from government monitoring were being eased.
"We will respect the rights of political freedom and religious
freedom, and we are deeply committed to that," he said.
"But for so-called terrorists to gather over themselves some
robe of clericism ... and claim immunity from being observed,
people who hijack a religion and make out of it an implement of war
will not be free from our interest."
Ashcroft told "Fox News Sunday" that military tribunals would
be limited to non-U.S. citizens and "not just normal criminal
activity, but war crimes." He refused to rule out military
tribunals for any foreigners detained on American soil.
"Can you imagine apprehending a terrorist, either in the
deserts of Afghanistan or on the way to the United States to commit
a crime, and having to take them through the traditional justice
system?" Ashcroft asked.
"Reading them the Miranda rights? Hiring a flamboyant lawyer at
public expense? Having sort of Osama television?"
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Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., a conservative former federal prosecutor, said he opposed tribunals for any suspect detained on U.S. soil.
"I'm not worried about tribunals, for example, overseas, but
domestically we have to abide by the Bill of Rights," he told ABC.