Bush Administration Raises Terror Alert
Ashcroft Suggests Soft Targets Such as Hotels and Apartments Potential Targets

Associated Press

Updated: 02-07-2003 01:35:25 PM

The Bush administration Friday raised the national terror alert from yellow to orange, the second-highest level in the color-coded system. Attorney General John Ashcroft cited an ``increased likelihood'' that the al-Qaida terror network would attack against Americans, either at home or abroad.

Ashcroft said apartment buildings, hotels or other ``lightly secured targets'' in the United States are potential targets.

He told a Justice Department news conference the decision was based on an increase in intelligence pointing to a possible attack by Osama bin Laden's organization timed to coincide with the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Islam's holiest site. The holy period begins Sunday and ends mid-February.

The change in the alert level will trigger a government-wide increase in security precautions.

``We are not recommending that events be canceled,'' nor should individuals change their travel, work or recreational plans, Ashcroft said.

Even so, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge urged Americans ``in the days ahead, take some time to prepare for emergencies.'' As an example, Ridge suggested that families devise plans for contacting one another if separated by an emergency.

``Terrorist attacks can really take many forms,'' he said.

The alert has been at code yellow, or ``elevated,'' which is the middle of a five-point scale of risk developed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It was last raised to orange in September and stayed there for two weeks to coincide with the first anniversary of the attacks. The highest alert level is red.

Ashcroft said there was a ``sound basis'' for the decision. However, he declined to go beyond that.

``This decision for an increased threat condition designation is based on specific intelligence received and analyzed by the full intelligence community. This information has been corroborated by multiple intelligence sources,'' Ashcroft said.

Other officicials said U.S. preparation for a possible war with Iraq was also a factor in the decision to raise the alert status.

``Since September the 11th, the U.S. intelligence community has indicated that the al-Qaida terrorist network is still determined to attack innocent Americans, both here and abroad,'' Ashcroft said.

He said that recent intelligence reports had indicated that ``al-Qaida leaders have emphasized planning for attacks on apartment buildings, hotels and other soft or lightly secured targets in the United States.''

Ashcroft said the recent bombings of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, and of a resort hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, ``demonstrate the continued willingness of al-Qaida to strike at peaceful, innocent civilians.''

He also said the global terror network could even try to mount a chemical, biological or radiological attack.

Ridge said that local and state law enforcement agencies, the nation's governors, many mayors and Congress had been informed in the change in the alert status.

``We're asking all these leaders to increase their security and viligance wherever necessary,'' Ridge said.