© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2003
WASHINGTON -- Facing the prospect of a U.S.-led war with Iraq, FBI officials are helping local law enforcement look beyond the end of the Muslim holiday that prompted the most recent terror warning and improve preparations for possible chemical, biological or radiological attacks, officials said.
In detailed advisories over the past week, the FBI and Homeland Security provided information to local law enforcement about the type of biological and chemical weapons that U.S. and foreign intelligence indicates al-Qaida has obtained and tested.
Some advisories reported U.S. authorities obtained evidence last year from al-Qaida showing members of the terrorist network had tested mustard gas and Sarin and VX nerve agents, according to law enforcement officials who saw the advisories.
"Information indicates the group has experimented with procedures for making blister (mustard) and nerve (sarin and VX) chemical agents," one unclassified advisory sent out at midweek said.
Some of the advisories cautioned chemical and biological attacks could be staged at multiple locations and synchronized to cause the greatest possible panic, officials said.
Other law enforcement intelligence highlighted evidence gathered from recent arrests overseas of terrorists who were dabbling with a lethal poison known as ricin, derived from the castor bean plant, officials said.
Federal law enforcement and U.S. intelligence officials say they have no intelligence as of yet suggesting a specific type, location or timing of a terrorist operation connected to U.S. action in Iraq but that intelligence analysts believe there is a high likelihood such an attack will be attempted by al-Qaida if a war begins in the Persian Gulf.
FBI investigators have gathered evidence that as many as a dozen men who trained at al-Qaida training camps are on U.S. soil, raising the prospect they might be part of terror cells able to launch attacks if a war starts, officials said.
Officials said the effort to prepare law enforcement for terrorism is more subtle and preparatory than the instant alert last week that raised the nation's threat level to orange, its second highest.
FBI and Homeland Security officials said the advisories to law enforcement last week were designed to prepare for terror scenarios prompted by a war with Iraq -- well before real intelligence arrives suggesting a specific threat tied to military action.
"These intelligence bulletins are one of many ways the federal government communicate with state and local law enforcement, and one of the primary purposes is to provide detailed information in a variety of terrorism related situations they may encounter," FBI spokesman Mike Kortan said.
WASHINGTON -- With the nation remaining at "high risk" for attack, President Bush on Saturday called on Americans to be alert but calm and said the government is "working to track down every lead and standing watch 24 hours a day" to prevent a terrorist strike.
Amid repeated television images in recent days of people rushing to stores to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting while antiaircraft missile launchers were deployed around the nation's capital, officials have faced the difficult balancing act of urging the public to prepare for a possible attack but not panic.
Continuing that effort, Bush warned in his weekly radio talk, "Our enemies are still determined to attack America."
But he encouraged Americans to "go about their lives."
Bush suggested people check the Department of Homeland Security Web site at www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/ to find out more about how to prepare and react to an attack.
RED CROSS MOVES: The American Red Cross has temporarily moved its national disaster operations center to western Maryland to get it away from the Washington area, which could be a target of terrorism, officials said.
The move from Falls Church, Va., to Walkersville, a town of about 5,200 residents, is for an undisclosed amount of time, officials said Friday.
BAHRAIN ARRESTS 5: Bahraini authorities have broken up an alleged terrorist ring suspected of planning attacks in the Gulf kingdom, home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, officials said Saturday.
Five Bahraini men ages 31 to 41 were arrested for plotting terrorist acts against the island's "national interests and endangering the lives of innocent people," the official Bahrain News Agency reported.
KARZAI ASKS FOR COOPERATION: Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday urged his people to help U.S. soldiers track down suspected terrorists in southern Afghanistan, and asked American forces to take special care to avoid civilian casualties in their operations.
"The people of Baghran should cooperate with the international community's forces who are working in Afghanistan for their betterment," Karzai told local elders from the southern Baghran district of Helmand province. "It is in citizens' own interest to give information about terrorists who are seen in the villages."