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Ridge Warns Americans to Return to High State of Alert

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 shadowy enemy."

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 local authorities.

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 official said.

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 certain suspects.

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?"

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.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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