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18 March 2003

U.S. Terrorist Alert Raised to Second Highest Threat Level

(Response based on expected attacks on U.S., coalition targets) (890)

The United States raised its terrorist threat level to code orange, or
"high risk" -- the second highest threat level -- based on
intelligence reports indicating likely attacks on U.S. and coalition
targets if the United States begins military hostilities against Iraqi
leader Saddam Hussein.

"A large volume of reporting across a range of sources, some of which
are highly reliable, indicates that al-Qaeda probably would attempt to
launch terrorist attacks against U.S. interests claiming they were
defending Muslims or the 'Iraqi people' rather than Saddam Hussein's
regime," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in a statement
March 17. "There are many recent indications that al-Qaeda's planning
includes the use of chemical, biological, and radiological materials."

Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security announced it has
begun implementing increased protective measures under a comprehensive
national plan -- dubbed "Operation Liberty Shield."

"Operation Liberty Shield will increase security at our borders,
strengthen transportation sector protections, enhance security at our
critical infrastructure, increase public health preparedness and make
sure all federal response assets can be deployed quickly," Ridge said.

He said that in recent months there have been reports of suspicious
activity in and around military facilities, ports, waterways, general
infrastructure such as bridges, dams, and power generating facilities,
and targets considered symbolic of U.S. power and influence.

Ridge said he has asked the 50 U.S. governors to deploy Army and Air
National Guard forces or additional state police forces to improve
security at critical locations throughout the United States.

This marks the third time the Bush administration has ordered the
terrorist threat level raised to high risk since the five-point,
color-coded alert scale was put in place a year ago. Code green
indicates the lowest risk level, while code blue indicates a guarded
general risk, code yellow an elevated threat, code orange a high risk,
and code red indicates severe risk of terrorist attacks.

It is the first time the level was raised by the Department of
Homeland Security since it took over the duties from the Justice
Department March 1.

The alert level had been at code yellow, or "elevated," since February
27.

Following is the text of Ridge's remarks:

(begin text)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C.
March 17, 2003

Operation Liberty Shield: Statement by Homeland Security Secretary Tom
Ridge

The Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Homeland
Security Council, has made the decision to raise the national threat
level from an Elevated to High risk of terrorist attack or Level
Orange. The Intelligence Community believes that terrorists will
attempt multiple attacks against U.S. and Coalition targets worldwide
in the event of a U.S.-led military campaign against Saddam Hussein. A
large volume of reporting across a range of sources, some of which are
highly reliable, indicates that al-Qaeda probably would attempt to
launch terrorist attacks against U.S. interests claiming they were
defending Muslims or the "Iraqi people" rather than Saddam Hussein's
regime.

While the March 1 arrest of senior al-Qaeda operative, Khalid Shaykh
Muhammad (KSM) has put the al-Qaeda senior leadership on the defensive
-- and will be debilitating in the long term -- the Intelligence
Community believes that KSM's capture will not necessarily affect
operations that are ready or nearly ready for execution. There are
many recent indications that al-Qaeda's planning includes the use of
chemical, biological, and/or radiological materials.

Intelligence reporting also indicates that while al-Qaeda and those
sympathetic to their cause are a principal threat, Iraqi state agents,
Iraqi surrogate groups, other regional extremist organizations, and ad
hoc groups or disgruntled individuals not connected to existing
organizations or state agencies, may use this time period to conduct
terrorist attacks against the U.S., or our interests abroad.

In recent months, there have been reports of suspicious activity in
and around military facilities, ports, waterways, general
infrastructure (bridges, dams, power generating facilities), and
targets that are considered symbolic to U.S. power and influence. The
discovery of ricin production in London raises the concern of the
Intelligence Community that extremists are planning to follow through
on longstanding threats of poison plots against U.S, British and
Israeli interests -- and possibly other targets in Europe.

The Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with numerous
departments of the federal government has begun implementing increased
protective measures under a comprehensive national plan to protect the
Homeland: "Operation Liberty Shield."

Operation Liberty Shield will increase security at our borders,
strengthen transportation sector protections, enhance security at our
critical infrastructure, increase public health preparedness and make
sure all federal response assets can be deployed quickly.

Tonight, I have spoken to the nation's Governors and asked them to
deploy the National Guard or additional police forces to improve
security at critical locations throughout their states. Other state,
local and private sector leaders are also being contacted to engage
their support to increase the nation's security.

These heightened security measures will help deter terrorism and
increase protection of America and Americans. In the meantime, as on
the other occasions when the national threat level has been increased,
we encourage members of the public to continue their daily work,
family and leisure activities with a heightened awareness.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)