Federal officials have information suggesting that al Qaeda plans to mount a large-scale terrorist attack in the U.S. this summer, says the Washington Post. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller plan a news conference this afternoon to discuss the threat and to ask Americans to watch for several suspected al Qaeda operatives.
The concerns are driven by intelligence deemed credible indicating an attack may be planned between now and Labor Day. That information corresponds with other intelligence “chatter” suggesting that al Qaeda operatives are pleased with the change in government resulting from the March 11 terrorist bombings in Spain and may want to affect elections elsewhere. “They saw that an attack of that nature can have economic and political consequences and have some impact on the electoral process,” said a federal official.
Officials are trying to strengthen security at the presidential nominating conventions this summer in Boston and New York. They are concerned about the possible targeting of other events, starting with the World War II Memorial ceremony Saturday in Wshington, D.C., the Group of Eight summit June 8-10 in Sea Island, Ga., and the Summer Olympic Games in August in Athens.
Federal officials have been discussing raising the national threat level between now and Jan. 21, the day after the presidential inauguration.
A source said that truck bombs are a primary concern. “I’m more worried than I was at Christmastime,” said one senior U.S. intelligence official, comparing the “election threat” to the canceling of specific airline flights around the holidays. He said the U.S. government is convinced there are as yet unidentified al Qaeda operatives in the U.S., waiting for the word to launch plots. A FBI bulletin last week urged officials to be on the alert for possible suicide bombers. Officials were urged to take note of people in bulky jackets in warm weather, clothing smelling of chemicals or trailing electrical wires, and potential bombers dressed in uniform or disguised as pregnant women.
Meanwhile, a power failure at the Washington, D.C., emergency communications center disrupted police and fire operations for about an hour yesterday, says the Washington Post. It was the second time in a year that the system has gone down. The trouble was compounded by a series of equipment problems, including the failure of backup generators. Officials said that they did not lose any 911 calls, although some people might have been forced to wait longer than usual for an operator. The malfunctions drew criticism from leaders of the city police union, who said they raised questions about the D.C.’s ability to respond to a natural disaster or other serious incident. “This is our Achilles’ heel,” said Sgt. G.G. Neill of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1. “This is the nation’s capital, and the police department can’t get radio communications working? Why isn’t this problem fixed?”