© St. Petersburg Times, published September 12, 2002
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military increased fighter jet patrols over 10 cities, and missile launchers around Washington were armed Wednesday. Several U.S. embassies and consulates remained closed, on watch for possible terrorist attacks.
Americans worldwide were on high alert this Sept. 11 -- the anniversary of the most deadly terrorist assault on U.S. soil.
The White House homeland security director, Tom Ridge, spent the day monitoring developments around the country after he returned from a memorial service in Shanksville, Pa.
"So far, so good," he said.
Ridge was paying close attention to a case in which a ship headed for the United States was ordered back to sea after federal and local officials off the Port Newark/Elizabeth Marine Terminal detected radioactivity in its cargo.
The military command in charge of operations in the Middle East and Central Asia moved to the Pentagon's highest security level -- known as "Delta" -- after receiving credible threats from more than one country. Officials declined to elaborate.
The order followed one by the Bush administration on Tuesday that the color-coded domestic alert be raised to its second-highest level -- orange -- based on new intelligence warnings of possible strikes, mostly overseas.
Information prompting the alert across America came from Omar al-Farouq, a senior al-Qaida figure captured in Asia, according to two government sources who spoke Wednesday on the condition of anonymity.
Al-Farouq, an Arab who was described as an al-Qaida operations chief in Southeast Asia, has been in U.S. custody since this summer and provided his interrogators specific information suggesting that terror cells in the region were planning attacks on U.S. facilities, the sources said.
Other unspecified intelligence appeared to corroborate al-Farouq's claims. He had been based in Indonesia. Al-Farouq's name was first reported by the New York Times.
In response to the alert, the military resumed around-the-clock combat patrols over Washington and New York on Friday, and expanded to include 10 more cities, defense officials said. Fighter jets also were on alert on airstrips at more than a dozen other locations, ready to scramble if needed.
Tension also was high overseas as envelopes containing suspicious powders were delivered to U.S. diplomatic missions in Germany, Denmark and Italy, sparking scares across Europe. Bush administration spokesman Ari Fleischer said the substance found at one of the U.S. buildings in Germany was sugar.
The envelopes with suspicious powder were received by the consulates in the German cities of Munich, Hamburg, Leipzig, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt, and at the embassies in Rome and Copenhagen, Denmark.
After last year's Sept. 11 attacks, several people in the United States were killed by anthrax-tainted letters sent in the mail.
Nine U.S. embassies remained closed Wednesday because of the alert.
President Bush traveled under extraordinarily tight security to the sites of last year's attacks at the Pentagon, in New York City and in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Vice President Dick Cheney remained in hiding after being taken Tuesday night to a secret location to protect the presidential line of succession in case of an attack.
The Secret Service increased security around the White House. Extra soldiers set up additional guard positions around the Pentagon.