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White House Hikes Terror Alert Level From Yellow to Orange

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2003 – The national terror alert level has been hiked today from elevated "yellow" to high "orange" based on intelligence reports that al Qaeda terrorists may attempt to again strike the United States or target Americans abroad.

Earlier in the day, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge had appeared before the House Homeland Security Select Committee. Committee Chair Rep. Christopher Cox reported there that Ridge would be on his way to the White House to update President Bush on the homeland security situation after testifying. The decision to raise the threat level came afterwards.

Continue With Plans Under Elevated Threat, Officials Recommend

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

Even with the raised terror threat level to high "orange," Homeland Security officials recommend Americans continue with their "plans for work or leisure."

Homeland Security Department Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson said today on Capitol Hill that officials had no specific information in terms of specific locations threatened or type of attacks possible. Raids by "assault teams" with small arms, car bombings and suicide bomber attacks are all possible.

"The use of tactics similar to those that we have seen in recent terrorist attacks have to be considered," Hutchinson said. Earlier in the day, his boss, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge testified before the House Homeland Security Select Committee.

The undersecretary said the main purpose of the announcement was to alert law enforcement to implement increased security measures and to advise the public to be alert and vigilant.

"Vigilance, in and of itself, is a deterrent to terrorist activity," Hutchinson said. "Obviously, we urge the American public, if they see anything suspicious, to call their local FBI office."

Ridge assured committee members that his department is on guard for possible terrorist acts. "I truly believe that we're considerably ... safer today than we were on Sept. 10 (2001)," Ridge said.

Since his department became operational less than three months ago, Ridge noted that his agency has "made a great deal of progress" in going about its business of protecting America and its people from terrorism.

"We're off to a good start, understanding that we still have a long way to go," he pointed out.

For example, as part of Operation Liberty Shield during the heightened threat period in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Ridge noted that federal, state and local governments "identified critical assets and went out and hardened those assets."

And the Top Officials 2 emergency preparedness exercise that was held May 12-17 in Chicago and Seattle, Ridge noted, is being used to gauge the effectiveness of first responders, the adequacy of hospital facilities and the availability of medicines in the event of a real chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear terrorist attack.

"We are not more vulnerable because of what happened on Sept. 11," Ridge pointed out. "We're just more aware of our vulnerabilities."

He acknowledged that protecting the U.S. homeland, its citizens and critical infrastructure against terrorism is a challenge, due to the country's size and long borders.

"The fact of the matter is, we have an open, diverse and welcoming country," Ridge pointed out. America, he noted, has extensive inland waterways, coastlines and borders to protect, as well as millions of visitors each year.

"We do have a lot of challenges ahead of us, but I think the men and women of the (Homeland Security) Department are up to it," he concluded.

Ridge last raised the threat level from yellow to orange on March 17, when the president provided his ultimatum to since-deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The U.S.-coalition military operation that kicked Saddam and his regime out of power - Operation Iraqi Freedom - commenced March 19.

News reports May 19 quoted Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as commenting that al Qaeda is planning another attack on the United States or his country. He reportedly based his information on intelligence- intercepted "chatter" of suspected terrorist communications.

Al Qaeda is the terrorist network responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that killed 3,000 people and the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 sailors and wounded more than 40.

U.S. officials believe the militant Muslim group was responsible for the May 12 suicide bombings at a foreigner residential complex in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed 34 people, including eight Americans. And other suspected al Qaeda attacks have lately occurred in Morocco and Yemen.

In other related news, media reports filed today noted that U.S. and British embassies and consulates in Saudi Arabia would be closed for several days.

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