The Bush administration on Tuesday boosted the nation’s terrorism alert level back to orange, or high, worried that new attacks could come not only overseas but also in the United States.
Intelligence officials said there was no specific, substantiated information about when and where an attack might happen or what method might be used. But an extremely high volume of chatter and intelligence data suggested that the al-Qaida terrorist organization could be planning attacks on Western targets in the Arabian Peninsula, Africa or Southeast Asia, or perhaps in Europe.
The FBI also believes there could be an attack on U.S. soil, and it issued an advisory to local law enforcement agencies Friday warning that al-Qaida remains capable of hitting U.S. targets abroad or at home. The bureau said, however, that it had no information indicating a specific threat.
“This change is based upon the recent terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, also in conjunction with intelligence reports concerning anti-U.S. terrorist groups’ intentions,” Asa Hutchinson, Department of Homeland Security undersecretary, said Tuesday.
Bombs in Casablanca, Morocco, killed 41 Friday. In Saudi Arabia, 34 people, including eight Americans, were killed by suicide bombings at housing complexes in Riyadh early last week. Intelligence officials believe that al-Qaida conducted the Saudi Arabian attacks and inspired the Moroccan ones.
Still shaken, Saudi Arabia also went on a heightened state of alert Tuesday as U.S. and Saudi authorities warned that other attacks appeared imminent.
The U.S. and British embassies in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, and the U.S. consulates in Jiddah and Dhahran announced plans to close temporarily, and the Germany Embassy reportedly was reducing its staff.
“We have indications there is going to be an attack very soon,” said John Burgess, the U.S. Embassy’s chief spokesman. The warning was based on information from “credible sources” but didn’t specify a target, Burgess said.
The families of embassy employees and American workers were streaming out of the country in response to the alert.
“Everybody is taking it seriously,” said David Towse of Alton, Ill., a 38-year-old aircraft worker who lives at the Jadawel International compound, one of the three residential enclaves bombed last week. “The people I know are taking extra precautions.”
In Washington, the decision to raise the U.S. threat alert to its second highest level came after top national security officials met at the White House to review intelligence data. It sets in motion costly security measures at airports, bridges and tunnels and other high-risk sites going into the Memorial Day weekend.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told the nation’s governors and mayors of the decision to raise the level. He urged them to deploy more police, especially in areas where large public gatherings were planned, Hutchison said.
Hutchison urged Americans to be vigilant but said they should go about their regular plans.