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Officials: Iraq could be pretense for U.S. terror attack

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Counter-terrorism sources tell CNN's Kelli Arena that the situation over Iraq may provoke al Qaeda to strike in sympathy (February 5)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The threat of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil is at a higher level than in previous months because of the possibility of impending military action against Iraq, U.S. counterterrorism officials told CNN on Wednesday.

"The threat level is definitely up. Our guys have been told to act as if we have already bombed Iraq," one senior counterterrorism official told CNN.

Government officials said they are concerned that al Qaeda, Iraqi agents or individuals could launch an attack coinciding with a U.S. strike against Iraq.

There has been debate about putting out an alert warning or actually raising the national threat level, but threat level will remain at yellow, or elevated, sources told CNN.

Sources say the FBI is closely watching a "handful" of people believed to be Iraqi intelligence officers in the United States. It is part of the bureau's effort to question many of the tens of thousands of Iraqis living in the United States.

There is also surveillance of at least several hundred Iraqi nationals who are thought to be supporters of Saddam.

Sources say that since the September 11 attacks, the United States has received constant intelligence about another major al Qaeda assault. There is continuing fear of al Qaeda obtaining weapons of mass destruction, but officials said there is no proof the terrorist organization has such weapons yet.

"If they get their hands on them, no doubt they will use them," a senior official told CNN.

A senior counterterrorism official said he has remained concerned about a second terrorist attack since September 11, 2001. "We're holding our breath" because of Iraq, the official said.

Heightened concern prompted the FBI to instruct its agents to pack three days of clothes and personal items and a bag for at least a one-month deployment, sources said.

The FBI will deliver a National Threat Assessment to Congress next week which will describe how al Qaeda continues to adapt and will say that a major concern is the threat of chemical and biological agents.

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