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Bill
24 Dec 03,, 00:06
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=519&e=3&u=/ap/20031223/ap_on_re_us/terror_threat

U.S. Broadens Air Patrols Due to Threat

By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Intelligence gathered by the U.S. government indicates al-Qaida terrorists have a keen interest in striking targets that are far from major cities, such as power plants, dams and even oil facilities in Alaska. The Pentagon (news - web sites) said Tuesday it is broadening air patrols throughout the country.

In addition, the military is deploying surface-to-air missile systems in the Washington area and is considering locating more anti-aircraft systems in the New York City region, a defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.


Some of the intelligence "chatter" that led President Bush (news - web sites) to put the nation on high "orange" alert for a terrorist strike dealt with threats against remote facilities, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials speaking Tuesday on condition of anonymity.


One specific threat, they said, was against oil facilities in Valdez, Alaska, where tankers load Prudhoe Bay oil destined for the continental United States. Other threats are more general, mentioning nuclear plants in rural areas and other electric facilities, major dams, bridges or chemical plants, the officials said.


One official cautioned that most of the reports were uncorroborated some were from only a single informant or communications intercept and may be unconnected to a larger al-Qaida plot. But local officials boosted security at many such facilities, including the Port of Valdez where armed Coast Guard patrol boats were more visible and ship boardings were on the increase.


"Making our presence known is a great deterrent," said Coast Guard spokesman Roger Wetherell.


Other intelligence points to possible attacks in cities such as New York, Washington or Los Angeles, which have been targeted by terrorists before. Aircraft continue to be a favored al-Qaida method, particularly aircraft originating from overseas and those carrying cargo both of which have less security than U.S. passenger aircraft.


Officials say there also seems to be interest in targeting holiday events that draw large crowds, such as college and professional football games and New Year's celebrations and parades.


Americans across the nation are likely to notice increased air patrols as the government continues its response to Sunday's decision to raise the nation's terror threat level to orange, or high, the second-highest point, the Defense Department said. It marked the fifth time the level has gone above yellow, or elevated, since the five-point system was developed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.


Patrols of warplanes will increase "over select cities and facilities" in the coming days, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers said air defenses were put on higher alert in the Washington area and also at "different air bases throughout the country."


The patrols are "more broad" than in the past, Myers said, when fighter planes focused patrols on such expected al-Qaida targets as New York and Washington. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. warplanes have been summoned some 1,600 times to investigate incidents in American airspace an average of around twice a day, the general said.


Government officials continued to convey a sense of guarded urgency about the latest terror threats, which have been described as the most serious since the Sept. 11 attacks.


Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the government acted appropriately in raising the terror risk level given the volume and nature of intelligence.


"You do not do it lightly," Rumsfeld said. "You ask, 'Is it serious?' Yes, you bet your life'."


Security continued to tighten at the nation's airports, with more bomb-sniffing dogs in visible use, parking restrictions in force and baggage screeners taking extra care. Additional officers have been activated along the U.S.-Canada border.


Overseas, officials in Turkey said they fear militants may be preparing to organize new attacks on American, Israeli and other Western interests or on Istanbul's most popular shopping mall. The U.S. Embassy in Bahrain also warned of a terror attack in that Persian Gulf country, telling Americans to avoid places where Westerners gather and curtail unnecessary travel.


State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said American embassies regularly re-examine their operations to see what can be done to increase security when alerts are high.





"They look at things like access routes, police presence, whether there are other things we need to ask the local governments for," such as closing roads, he said.

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Associated Press writers John Solomon and John J. Lumpkin contributed to this story.