White House: No need to elevate terror alert

By Paul Sperry

WASHINGTON – Despite a resurgence in al-Qaida attacks, the president’s Homeland Security Council will keep the terrorism risk level at yellow, the White House says.

The day before the Sept. 11 anniversary, it elevated the advisory from yellow to orange, signaling a high risk of terrorist attacks. The council based the change in the Homeland Security Advisory System on U.S. intelligence reports of increased “chatter” among suspected terrorists overseas.

Yet no major terrorist attacks materialized, and the threat level was lowered to yellow.

In contrast, al-Qaida and affiliated Islamic terrorist groups this month are thought to have hit targets in Yemen, Kuwait, Indonesia and possibly the Philippines. Americans were killed in the Kuwait and Indonesia attacks. Al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, have been quoted taking credit for the attacks and warning operatives will hit “economic targets.”

At the same time, there is growing speculation that the sniper attacks in Washington, which have killed nine and wounded two, may be the work of an al-Qaida cell or Muslim radicals sympathetic to al-Qaida.

Schools around the Beltway are on code-blue alert. Outdoor events have been canceled, and children are being kept indoors for recess.

The president’s council is made up of the heads of the Homeland Security Office, Defense Department, FBI and CIA.

Asked why the council has not recommended a higher alert, a Homeland Security Office employee said: “We don’t know the intelligence they have.”

The al-Qaida attacks come as President Bush has been
lining up international support for a possible war on
Iraq. He signed a congressional resolution yesterday
authorizing the use of force if Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein does not comply with United Nations weapons
inspections. The ceremony was overshadowed by Monday
night’s sniper murder of an FBI analyst inside the
Beltway.

Bush also is busy supporting the campaigns of Republican congressional candidates in key races around the country in advance of next month’s elections.

During the Beltway sniper crisis, several political leaders – including the governors of Maryland and Virginia and U.S. representatives from those states – have attended press conferences to reassure citizens and comfort the families of victims.

Bush has expressed outrage regarding the snipers, as reporters have asked him about it at various photo opportunities and venues. But he has not held a press conference regarding the crisis or met with families of victims.

Speculation grew yesterday among law enforcement and media that the snipers might be terrorists. Then, at the end of the day, the White House dropped the bombshell that North Korea has a secret nuclear weapons program. Bush in January labeled the communist state as part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and Iran.

It is not immediately clear when the White House first learned of the North Korea revelation.

Last month, when the terror threat level was raised, Bush said: “We’ll do everything we can to protect the American people.”

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