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U.S. troops remain on high alert after terrorist threat

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf region remained on the highest state of alert on Saturday because of a threat of an attack by followers of alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden, sources tell CNN.

On Friday, sources said that U.S. ships in Mideast ports had been sent to sea for security reasons.

The U.S. State Department said it is cautioning U.S. citizens abroad of an "increased risk"; an advisory on possible terrorism risks has been in effect since May 29, following the convictions of four bin Laden associates in the embassy bombings trial in New York.

CNN's David Ensor reports on what the U.S. is doing to protect itself from an increased terrorism threat (June 22)

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Naval forces in the Persian Gulf  
Security threats  

The "non-specific but credible threat" from bin Laden's group is believed to be against U.S. citizens and interests around the world, rather than specifically against the U.S. military or potential targets in the Persian Gulf region, sources said.

Officials said U.S. intelligence had indications from two separate sources that an attack was planned, and had monitored the movement of known bin Laden operatives.

"There were two separate indications from two different sources saying the same thing," one official told CNN, "That's what set off the alarm bells."

The officials said there was a time frame for the attack, but they would not disclose it.

One official said the attack appeared to have been planned before Thursday's announcement of U.S. indictments against 14 suspects in the June 25, 1996, bombing of the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. airmen and injured hundreds of others.

Thirteen Saudis and one Lebanese citizen are accused of bombing the military housing complex. The fifth anniversary of the bombing is Monday.

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Pentagon sources say all the countries where the United States has military forces along the Persian Gulf and Jordan have moved to "Threatcon Delta," the highest threat condition, or state of alert, indicating a terrorist attack could be imminent.

Ships of the U.S. 5th Fleet, including the USS Constellation aircraft carrier group, have been sent to sea as a precaution under the requirements of Threatcon Delta. Most were already at sea, but some minesweepers left port from Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet.

The threat "does not point to a specific region," according to an informed U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"Given [bin Laden's] span, it could be anywhere around the world," the official said, acknowledging the Persian Gulf and Middle East are "high on the list."

The official said U.S. government facilities around the world were "taking appropriate steps" in light of the threat.

U.S.military in Persian Gulf
21 ships
66 aircraft
10, 957 sailors and Marines
Source: U.S. Navy

The threat comes days after a videotape was released to news media outlets in which bin Laden directs his followers to prepare for fighting and other clips show military training exercises -- including soldiers shooting at a movie screen image of former President Bill Clinton.

The tape opens with video of the USS Cole after it was attacked by suicide bombers in the port of Aden, Yemen. Seventeen U.S. service members were killed and 39 injured in the October 12, 2000, attack.

Bin Laden later in the tape comments on the attack: "And in the sea, they charged the destroyer that is fearsome to some, one that evokes horror when it docks and when it sails."

State Department officials said the Khobar indictments are only one factor in what is being described as heightened threats to Americans.

The USS Cole was refueling in the Yemen port of Aden when a small boat pulled alongside and detonated explosives.
The USS Cole was refueling in the Yemen port of Aden when a small boat pulled alongside and detonated explosives.  

One official said there have been "indications over the last 24 hours that cause us great concern, possibly linked to bin Laden." But he added those threats "aren't necessarily linked to Khobar."

"I won't say they are coincidental, but they are quite separate," the official said. "So we are taking advantage of the opportunity of the indictments to reissue the worldwide caution."

The official said the threats are concentrated in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, but that the increased risk is worldwide.

State Department officials said the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain will not reopen Saturday (the weekend ends Friday) and the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, closed early Friday due to security concerns.

• United States Naval Forces Central Command and United States Fifth Fleet
• U.S. Department of State - Home Page
• Terrorism Research Center

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