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Ashcroft: Alert doesn't mean to cower

Ashcroft, left, and Ridge annouce the alert.
Ashcroft, left, and Ridge annouce the alert.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A code orange alert for September 11, indicating a high risk of terrorist attack, does not mean Americans should change their travel plans, cancel planned outdoor events, or stay home.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge, who held a joint news conference Tuesday to announce the alert, said what the orange alert really means is that Americans should use their common sense and be watchful.

"Be wary and be mindful," Ridge said. "Let's make sure that every individual citizen who sees something suspicious reports it,"

"Remain alert but defiant in the face of this new threat," said Ashcroft, who cited intelligence based on debriefings of "a senior al Qaeda operative" of possible terrorist attacks timed to coincide with the September 11 anniversary.

Al Qaeda cells in several South Asian countries have been accumulating explosives since January and may be planning car bomb or other attacks on U.S. facilities, Ashcroft said.

U.S. intelligence agencies have separate information that one or more people in the Middle East are preparing a suicide attack or attacks against U.S. interests, he said.

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He did not say where such strikes might take place. Nor would he provide any identification regarding the "senior al Qaeda operative." Other officials said the person had been held in an undisclosed country for about two months.

Ashcroft said the information was "credible" and had been corroborated by "multiple intelligence sources." (Full story)

"At this time, most intelligence focuses on possible attacks on U.S. interests overseas," Ashcroft said. Asia-based al Qaeda cells "have been accumulating explosives since approximately January 2002 in preparation for these attacks," he added.

Potential targets might include transportation and energy sectors, or facilities that are recognized as symbols of the United States, Ashcroft said, giving such examples as U.S. military facilities, embassies or national monuments.

'Be alert but be defiant'

The orange alert may mean stricter security procedures, Ridge said. He said these "procedures" may be translated into barriers that could alter traffic flow or more frequent inspections of vehicles and people entering federal facilities.

"Be alert but be defiant," Ridge said, calling on citizens to become extra vigilant, extra careful, alert to any suspicious activity.

"Let's make sure that every individual citizen who sees something suspicious reports it to either the Joint Terrorism Task Force or their local law enforcement," he added.

He encouraged employers to know their company's emergency plans and to review them.

Terror warnings system: Color-coded system 

"I don't think America needs to be reminded that we are at war," Ridge said. "However, this announcement is a reminder that there are people around the world who would do us harm."

Ridge encouraged parents to talk to their children about the events of September 11 and about the possibility "that those who would do us harm may choose that date or any time around the commemorative period to do us harm again."

Neither Ashcroft nor Ridge said how long they anticipated code orange to continue.




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