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Security alert: Planes are still targets

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Department of Homeland Security has issued an alert that al Qaeda remains interested in "multiple attacks against targets in the U.S. involving commercial aircraft."

The bulletin, sent to hundreds of thousands of local and state law enforcement professional and airports across the country October 10, is intended to encourage a heightened level of security.

No new threat or new intelligence prompted the advisory, Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said. He said it is nearly identical to another bulletin issued September 4.

"We are getting a better sense of intelligence that's out there," he said. "We're passing it on to law enforcement."

He said the advisory is meant "to provide our Homeland Security professionals with the most current assessment of al Qaeda capabilities to strike the U.S. so they maintain a heightened level of security."

The DHS bulletin warns that credible intelligence indicates al Qaeda may be interested in "hijacking airliners transiting near or flying over the continental United States -- but not destined to land at U.S. airports."

Operatives have been looking at countries with the least stringent visa requirements for entry to more easily board flights in those countries, it advises, and then "take control in order to crash into targets in the U.S. during over flight."

The United States in August suspended the transit-without-visa program, which allowed people without U.S. visas to stop temporarily at U.S. airports on overseas flights bound for other countries.

The head of the Transportation Security Administration told members of Congress Thursday he believes the main threat to U.S. aviation remains the possibility of hijacking, rather than using shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down planes.

"The propensity of that terrorist group would still be to try to do something like getting on the airplane, [rather] than dealing with a [portable missile]," James M. Loy told a member of Congress who asked why the TSA was not focusing more on perimeter or cargo security.

"The intel of the day suggests that there are no immediate threats of [shoulder-fired missiles] inside the United States," Loy said.

The DHS bulletin also lists other targets that are attractive to al Qaeda:

• Nuclear power plants and other energy facilities.

• Petroleum, chemical and petrochemical plants.

• Transportation systems and facilities, including passenger trains and stations.

• Reservoirs and water systems, including dams.

• Food resources and supplies.

• Electric power grids.

They are attractive "because of their potentially significant economic and psychological impacts," the bulletin says.

Al Qaeda also could be interested in striking such soft targets as hotels and housing compounds with minimum physical security, the bulletin says.

And a top objective is to acquire chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials, according to the bulletin.

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