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Officials: Terrorists may target tall apt. bldgs.

FBI chief: 'We will not be able to stop it'

Officials: Terrorists may target tall apt. bldgs.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. intelligence services recently picked up al Qaeda discussions about packing explosives in apartments to topple tall buildings, U.S. officials told CNN Monday.

The officials said the purported plot was learned from diverse sources. The "chatter," as it's called in the intelligence community, resulted in the FBI asking apartment owners and property managers to report any suspicious activity.

The FBI did not issue a formal alert or advisory because the information is "uncorroborated" and was not specific to any city or region, one official said.

"The discussion was about renting some apartments, packing them with explosives and bringing some tall buildings down," another official said.

The official said that as far as he knew the plan had "not gotten beyond the talking stage" -- a sentiment echoed in the FBI memo to property managers.

Officials would not elaborate on the specific manner in which the information was gleaned or what cities might be potential targets.

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The news came as FBI Director Robert Mueller Monday predicted there would be "another terrorist attack" in the United States.

"We will not be able to stop it. It's something we all live with," he said in comments to the National Association of District Attorneys in suburban Washington.

The FBI director also called it "inevitable" that the United States would one day see pedestrian suicide bombers.

Meanwhile, two leading lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee said it's almost assured that the country will face another terrorist attack in the next few years.

"There is a likelihood almost to the point of certainty that over the next say, three to five years, that there will be another terrorist attack inside the U.S.," said Sen. Bob Graham, the chairman of the committee.

Graham, D-Florida, based that timeline on "the historical pattern" of the terrorist network al Qaeda, but he said "there is no empirical data" that points to a likely time.

"We don't know the specifics, the time and the place, but we have great reason to believe that we could be hit anytime in the next few years," said Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence panel.

As future attacks were predicted, a new Justice Department report called the Immigration and Naturalization Service's method of tracking students arriving from abroad "significantly flawed."

The report also blamed "widespread failure" in the INS for the episode in which the INS sent student visa approvals for September 11 hijackers to a Florida flight school six months after the attacks. (Full story)

Plan to allow airline 911 calls dropped

Despite the possibility of new attacks, federal transportation officials decided against the idea of having an emergency toll-free 911 number airline passengers could dial.

"We're not going to pursue that option. We're taking a different course of action," a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration said Monday. "A number of complicating factors prevent us from undertaking it."

Instead, the TSA said, pilots will be responsible for notifying authorities if there's an emergency on a plane.

"There will be another terrorist attack. We will not be able to stop it. It's something we all live with."
— FBI Director Robert Mueller

The spokesman said agency will work with the FAA and the airline industry to improve cockpit emergency tools that will allow more effective emergency communications with air traffic control, airline flight operations and the appropriate emergency responders.

Congress told the TSA to take a look at a 911 emergency call system in the air when it passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act last November.

According to the FAA, pilots can now talk to air traffic control and they can activate a certain frequency on board that signals they're being hijacked. That apparently would be enhanced.

The TSA also considered toll-free 911 numbers for passengers in trains, but decided not to go forward with it because a large percentage of passengers on trains have cell phones that can be used in an emergency.

Other developments

  • The body of a U.S. Special Forces soldier killed Sunday in eastern Afghanistan was being flown back to the United States. Sgt. Gene Arden Vance Jr, 38, of Morgantown, West Virginia, was a member of the 19th Special Forces Group of the West Virginia National Guard. His body has been flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, en route to West Virginia. (Full story)
  • Meanwhile, a contingent of Green Beret trainers landed in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, adding it to the list of countries where U.S. troops have deployed in the 8-month-old counterterror campaign. The Pentagon has said the training for elite troops of Georgia's small army will help it handle a lawless area of northeast Georgia where U.S. officials say terrorists linked to al Qaeda may be sheltered among Muslim guerrillas and refugees from across the border in the Russian region of Chechnya. (Full story)
  • The Federal Aviation Administration was notified about the arrest of student pilot Zacarias Moussaoui in the days leading up to September 11, but an official said Monday the agency decided not to warn the airlines about the possible threat. "We got no information that he was working with others, that's why we took no action," FAA spokesman Scott Brenner said Monday. (Full story)
  • The FBI said Sunday that security around the water purification and distribution centers in Orlando, Florida, has been beefed up in the wake of "a vague, unsubstantiated, uncorroborated threat" to the water supply. (Full story)




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