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Heightened Security Alert Unrelated to Saddam's Capture, Bremer Says

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2003 – The heightened security alert in the United States is not related to the capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, coalition administrator Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III said here today.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced the change in the national threat level of terrorist attack from elevated (code yellow) to high (code orange) Dec 21. The decision, Ridge said in a prepared statement, was based on "a substantial increase in the volume of threat-related intelligence reports" from the intelligence community. He said, "These credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond."

Bremer told NBC "Today" host Lester Holt there's been a "fairly steady suggestion of high terror threat, certainly in Iraq, where we are on the front of the war on terrorism, over the last weeks, unrelated to Saddam's capture."

When asked about a connection between members of Saddam's regime and al Qaeda, the administrator said when looking at more than 12 years of intelligence "it's pretty clear" there were contacts between the two.

"There's no question that we now have many professional terrorists in Iraq, from al Qaeda, from Ansar al-Islam, and that these terrorists are basically anxious to make Iraq one of the fronts in the global war on terrorism," he added.

Based on information and material gleaned since Saddam's capture, however, Bremer said several people have been detained.

"We've been arresting quite a number of his cronies and colleagues, including one last night," he added. "We're getting some very useful opportunities in the last week or 10 days to try to wrap up these leaders of the groups that are attacking our soldiers over there."

The ambassador said there's still a lot of work to do in Iraq before the transfer of authority at the end of June.

"(It's) going to take a lot of work, particularly by the Iraqis, who are going to have to get a major political dialogue going," he added. "They're going to have to find a way to select a transitional legislature. And we're working hard on that."

Bremer said the coalition is working hard to step up reconstruction efforts. "In the last six months, we've done 17,000 individual reconstruction projects in Iraq," he added. "We plan to continue that pace in the six months ahead, so that the Iraqis can see the economic benefit of liberation."

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