| Crew members pull bombs past an F-18 fighter jet on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS George Washington in the Arabian Sea. (AFP)
Washington, Sept. 10 (Reuters): Senior US officials, saying information from an al Qaida source indicates that American targets are at high risk of terrorist attack around the anniversary of September 11, announced today the first ever increase of its nationwide threat level.
However, US President George W. Bush said he was not aware of any specific threat to the United States but the threats US officials have recently heard are similar to the pattern before the September 11 attacks.
“The threats that we have heard recently remind us of the pattern of threats we heard prior to September the 11th,” Bush told reporters.
“We have no specific threat to America. But we’re taking everything seriously.”
“Americans need to go about their lives,” he added.
“They just need to know that their government (at the) federal, state and local level will be on an extra level of alert to protect us.”
The information pointed to possible suicide attacks on US interests in West Asia and the most likely threat was against US targets overseas, attorney general John Ashcroft told a news conference.
“The most recent intelligence that has prompted us to change our status has focused primarily overseas,” Ashcroft said.
“New information has fed into an analytic structure which has made us take very seriously both the new information and the analysis which leads us to this conclusion. Information has become available very recently.”
He called on Americans to go about their business as normal and said US government workers would report for duty as scheduled tomorrow.
Vice-President Dick Cheney cancelled a speech he was due to give this night and spent the night at a secure location, officials said.
The warning comes on the eve of the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon that killed around 3,000 people.
Those attacks have been blamed on the al Qaida network, headed by Osama bin Laden.
“We are now at high risk of a terrorist attack,” Tom Ridge, White House homeland security adviser, told the news conference.
The change in threat level comes as many Americans are already on edge, with opinion polls showing that many people expect fresh attacks against the United States.
The threat level has been raised to “orange,” reflecting a “high risk of terrorist attacks” and is one step below the top “red” threat level, where the risk is seen as “severe.”
The threat level has stood at “yellow,” the middle of the five-point scale, since the government created the colour-coded system in March to offer people guidelines on how to prepare for any attacks after September 11.
Earlier the US state department warned Americans to be especially vigilant around September 11.
In a worldwide caution issued late yesterday, it said: “There is a continuing threat of terrorist actions, which may target civilians and include suicide operations.”
The United States will close its embassies in Indonesia and Malaysia tomorrow for fear of attacks.
The embassy in Pakistan will also close.
The United States navy released today a warning to shipping in West Asia against possible planned attacks by al Qaida against oil tankers.