Terror alert moved up a notch

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 8, 2003

The Bush administration on Friday raised the national terror alert from yellow to orange, the second-highest level in the color-coded system. Attorney General John Ashcroft cited an &uot;increased likelihood&uot; that the al-Qaida terror network would attack against Americans either at home or abroad.

The attorney general also said terrorists might seek &uot;economic targets, including the transportation and energy sectors, as well as symbolic targets and symbols of American power.&uot;

He told a Justice Department news conference the decision was based on an increase in intelligence pointing to a possible attack by Osama bin Laden’s organization timed to coincide with the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Islam’s holiest site. The holy period begins Saturday and ends mid-February.


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The change in the alert level will trigger a government-wide increase in security precautions.

Locally, the Suffolk Chapter of the American Red Cross offered tips on creating a plan &uot;just in case,&uot; and while it’s not likely that this city would come under attack, Faye Byrum, executive director of the Suffolk Red Cross, and Captain Jim Judkins, Suffolk’s Emergency Service Coordinator, both said preparations should be made for such an event.

&uot;Every family needs an emergency communications plan and they should have an out of town contact where family members can call to check on each other,&uot; said Daniels. &uot;You should then make sure that every member of the household has those phone numbers. Establish a meeting place where the family can reunite in case you become separated during a disaster. This is important in any type of disaster and it always pays to be prepared.&uot;

Judkins added that each family should take some time to prepare for emergencies.

&uot;Terrorist attacks can come in many ways,&uot; he said. &uot;The alert has been at code yellow, or at the middle of a five-point scale of risk developed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It was last raised to orange in September and stayed there for two weeks to coincide with the first anniversary of the attacks. The highest alert level is red.&uot;

Attorney General Ashcroft said there was a &uot;sound basis&uot; for the choice. However, he declined to go beyond that.

&uot;This decision for an increased threat condition designation is based on specific intelligence received and analyzed by the full intelligence community. This information has been corroborated by multiple intelligence sources,&uot; he said.

Other officials said U.S. preparation for a possible war with Iraq was also a factor in the decision to raise the alert status.

&uot;Since Sept. the 11, the U.S. intelligence community has indicated that the al-Qaida terrorist network is still determined to attack innocent Americans, both here and abroad,&uot; Ashcroft said.

He also said the recent bombings of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, and of a resort hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, &uot;demonstrate the continued willingness of al-Qaida to strike at peaceful, innocent civilians.&uot;

Ashcroft said the global terror network could even try to mount a chemical, biological or radiological attack.

Secretary Tom Ridge said that local and state law enforcement agencies, the nation’s governors, many mayors and Congress had been informed in the change in the alert status.

&uot;We’re asking all these leaders to increase their security and vigilance wherever necessary,&uot; Ridge said.

For more information on how to prepare for an emergency, call the Suffolk Chapter Red Cross at 539-6645.