| Aafia Siddiqui (top), a Pakistani who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a Saudi who once lived in Florida, are being pursued by the FBI for questioning about contacts with al Qaida operatives. (AFP)
Washington, May 26 (Reuters): The US fears al Qaida is plotting a big attack inside the country or on US interests but has no plans to raise the terror threat level and no details on when, where or how it might occur, top officials said today.
“Credible intelligence, from multiple sources, indicates that al Qaida plans to attempt an attack on the US in the next few months,” attorney general John Ashcroft said.
“This disturbing intelligence indicates al Qaida’s specific intention to hit the US hard.”
Ashcroft said al Qaida has declared that preparations for an attack on the US were nearly complete. In a news conference with FBI director Robert Mueller, Ashcroft said al Qaida may hope for a similar response to that which occurred after the March 11 train bombings in Madrid.
Those attacks influenced Spain’s election and led to the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. “Al Qaida may perceive that a large-scale attack in the US this summer or autumn would lead to similar consequences,” ahead of the US presidential election, Ashcroft said.
“Several upcoming events over the next few months may present especially attractive targets for such an al Qaida attack,” said Ashcroft.
Those events include the opening of a World War II memorial this weekend in Washington, the Group of Eight summit in Sea Island, Georgia, in June, the Fourth of July holiday and the Democratic and Republican Party conventions in Boston and New York at the end of the summer, ahead of the November elections.
FBI director Robert Mueller joined Ashcroft and urged, Americans to be particularly alert in the coming months.
“Over the next few months we have reason to believe that there will be a heightened threat to US interests around the world,” he said in prepared remarks. “Unfortunately, we currently do not know what form that threat may take.
In a series of television interviews, homeland security secretary Tom Ridge said there were no plans to raise the colour-coded terror alert level, which is currently set at “yellow” — the mid-point of the five-point scale — for an “elevated” risk of attack.
At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan denied the government was overplaying the threat.
“We’ve continued to receive a stream of credible intelligence reporting over the last couple of months that points to the possibility of an attack or attacks inside the US,” McClellan said. “We know that they would like to have a dramatic effect.”
Ashcroft and Mueller said the US was putting out an alert on seven people who have been linked to al Qaida. The FBI has long been seeking information on at least six of them including Adnan El Shukrijumah, who Ashcroft said could be a “future facilitator of terrorist acts for al QaIda.” Mueller said the FBI also plans to conduct interviews nationwide to gather intelligence in an effort to disrupt potential threats.
Ashcroft warned that al QaIda may be changing in the face of new security measures.
“Intelligence sources suggest that the ideal al QaIda operative may now be in his late 20s or early 30s and may travel with a family to lower his profile,” Ashcroft said.