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U.S.: Government Warns Against Terror Strikes On 11 September

As Americans mark the anniversary today of last year's terrorist attacks, officials in Washington and around the world are warning of threats of possible new strikes and taking steps to avert them.

Washington, 11 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Set to commemorate today the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, Americans are facing stark official warnings that militants could be plotting to strike again.

With helicopters patrolling Washington's skies, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced yesterday that the government is increasing its state of alert for a terrorist attack on the anniversary of last 11 September's suicide hijackings, which killed more than 3,000 people.

Ashcroft told reporters that the increase in the nation's color-coded alert system to a state of "high risk of terror attacks" -- a level short of the highest warning -- was based largely on what he called credible data received in the previous 24 hours from a senior member of Al-Qaeda, the terrorist network blamed for last year's attacks:

"The United States government has concluded, based on analysis and specific intelligence of possible attacks on U.S. interests overseas to call government, law enforcement and citizens, both at home and overseas to a heightened state of alert."

Ashcroft added that the U.S. intelligence community had information that one or more suicide attacks were being planned on American interests abroad. He said he had no specific data as to when or where the attack might occur, but singled out U.S. corporate interests in the energy and transport sector, as well as embassies, as possible targets.

U.S. President George W. Bush, speaking at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, said the threats were eerily similar to last year's:

"The threats that we have heard recently remind us of the patterns of threats we heard prior to September 11."

Ashcroft's announcement came amid a flurry of other official warnings about possible terrorist activity directed at targets at home and abroad.

The Pentagon said yesterday that as a precaution, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had ordered surface-to-air missile launchers to be armed with missiles to guard against possible attacks on Washington.

In another precaution, the White House said that Vice President Dick Cheney had returned to a practice adopted after last year's attacks -- staying at a secure, undisclosed location. Cheney is next in command after Bush.

The State Department issued a worldwide caution to Americans to remain vigilant and temporarily closed to the public the U.S. embassies in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Pakistan. Officials said that the Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur embassies received "credible and specific threats." U.S. military bases overseas were also on heightened alert as the U.S. Navy warned that oil tankers in the Middle East could be targeted.

In Europe, governments across the continent strengthened airport security amid concern that militants could strike on the 11 September anniversary.

Italy, home of NATO's Southern Command in Naples, assigned 4,000 soldiers to protect sensitive areas across the country. In Germany, police stepped up security at the Frankfurt Airport, Europe's largest. In Switzerland, police were probing a bomb threat against the Bank of New York's Geneva offices. And Turkey was on alert after reports of a possible poison gas attack by militants linked to Al-Qaeda.

In Milan, the prosecutor who led an investigation into Al-Qaeda's operations in Italy told The Associated Press that the new threat after 11 September comes from "free-lance" terrorists without direct ties to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Stefano Dambruoso said the U.S. war on terrorism had largely dismembered Al-Qaeda but that a new threat now comes from what he called "many frustrated Muslims in Europe, who live on the fringes of society. They are close to fundamentalist groups but don't belong to any organization." He added: "The fear that we have is from individual jihads (holy wars)."

But President Bush, who scheduled an afternoon trip to New York to commemorate the strikes on the World Trade Center's twin towers, used his visit to the Afghan Embassy to remind the world that Washington's war on terrorism should not be confused with a war against Muslims:

"As we mourn tomorrow [today], we must remember that our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, not a religion, that governments which support them are our enemies, not faithful Muslims who love their families, who yearn for a more peaceful and safe world for their children."

Bush will give a speech commemorating 11 September tonight in New York. Tomorrow, he is expected to make a case for urgent action against Iraq in an address to the United Nations General Assembly.