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Ridge: Political Conventions Likely Terrorist Targets

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 8, 2004 – Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge today warned Americans that al Qaeda is planning to attack somewhere in the United States between now and the national presidential election.

Ridge told reporters that al Qaeda is now "moving ahead with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process."

In the coming months, Ridge noted, America will host several "high-profile" events, including the Democratic National Convention, slated for July 26-29 in Boston, and the Republican National Convention scheduled for Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 in New York City. The U.S. presidential election is slated for November. The secretary said these events all pose plausible targets.

Consequently, Ridge said, the Homeland Security Department is now working closely with other federal, state and local organizations "to ensure the security of the Democratic and Republican national conventions." Both conventions, he noted, have been designated "national special security events."

The Secret Service, which falls under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security, is the lead security agency for the two political parties' national conventions, Ridge reported.

Ridge acknowledged to reporters there's no specific information pointing to specific times or places of potential terrorist attacks. And, he said, there are no plans now to raise the current color-coded threat level from yellow (elevated) to orange (high).

U.S. officials have been concerned about another terror assault on the United States for some time. For example, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced during a May 26 news conference here "that al Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months."

Al Qaeda has publicly telegraphed its plans to strike America again soon, Ashcroft pointed out. After the March 11 commuter train bombings in Madrid, Spain, he noted at the May briefing, an al Qaeda spokesman announced that 90 percent of the arrangements for another attack in the United States were complete.

The Madrid terror bombings killed more than 200 people and wounded more than 1,500. The bombings had a direct impact on Spain's prime-ministerial elections, and newly elected Spanish Prime Minister Jose Ruis Rodriquez Zapatero immediately vowed to pull out the 1,300 Spanish soldiers serving in Iraq. The Spanish troops returned home shortly after.

"The Madrid railway bombings were perceived by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to have advanced their cause," Ashcroft said at the May 26 briefing. And, he noted, "al Qaeda may perceive that a large-scale attack in the United States this summer or fall would lead to similar consequences."

Ridge acknowledged today that Americans "live in serious times, and this is sobering information about those who wish to do us harm." He asked American citizens to be vigilant for suspicious activities, asserting such efforts "do make a difference."

And, "every day we strengthen the security of our nation," Ridge pointed out, noting, "As a nation we are committed to the absolute protection of our citizens."

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Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge
Attorney General John Ashcroft
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