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Fighting terror

Orange terror alert likely to be lowered, Ridge says

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2003


WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Sunday he thought the current terrorism threat level would likely be lowered from orange, but wouldn't say when.

"When it is lowered, and I'm confident it will be, then there will be an appropriate explanation at the time," he said.

Ridge defended the Bush administration's decision last week to increase the level to the second-highest on a color-coded scale of five, even though the government later determined that some of the information that led to the upgrading was likely fabricated.

"The decision to raise it to orange was not based on one or two sources," he said on ABC's This Week.

A senior administration official, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said Saturday that the end of the hajj -- the Muslim pilgrimage to the holy Mecca -- was causing officials to consider seriously lowering the threat level.

Ridge will present a "Ready Campaign" Wednesday encouraging the public to have a communication plan with their family, to prepare an emergency supply kit and to "stay alert on a day to day basis."

Ridge declined to comment on the specifics of a report in Newsweek magazine saying the CIA believes that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could be planning to launch a terrorist attack on the United States, using weapons of mass destruction.

The CIA analysis, the magazine reported, found a 59 percent probability an attack would occur before the end of March, but only a 6 percent chance such an attack would never occur.

Tape: War plans are plot to attack Muslim nations

CAIRO, Egypt -- An audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden calls President Bush "stupid" and claims American war plans against Iraq are part of a plot to attack Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa.

The tape was the same 53-minute recording from which a few excerpts were released Thursday by the British-based Islamic Al-Ansaar news agency. It began appearing in full Sunday on Islamic-oriented Web sites.

A raspy voice said to belong to bin Laden says the United States' goal in waging war against Iraq is to change the regional map to benefit Israel.

"It is clear that the preparations to attack Iraq are part of a series of attacks prepared for nations of the region including Syria, Iran, Egypt and Sudan," the voice said.

"The aim of the Crusaders' campaign is to prepare the atmosphere for the establishment of the so-called greater Israel state, which includes great parts of Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and large portions of (Saudi Arabia)," it said.

It wasn't possible to verify the voice was bin Laden.

The tape also praised the 1998 attack on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks .

"Their (Americans') stupid leader claimed we envy them for their way of life, but the truth that the pharaoh of this age is hiding is that we attack them because of their injustice toward us and the Muslim world, especially Palestine and Iraq," the voice said.

Earlier last week, Al-Jazeera satellite television station aired another tape attributed to bin Laden in which the voice urged Iraqis to back Saddam Hussein and carry out attacks against Americans. U.S. officials said they believed that voice was bin Laden's and claimed it showed his ties to the Iraqi government.

Anthrax scare closes New Jersey post office

LONG HILL TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- Authorities in New Jersey, where at least five anthrax-laden letters were mailed in 2001, closed another post office after brown powder fell from a package containing a threatening letter.

An initial test was negative for anthrax, but a secondary test was inconclusive, Postal Service spokesman Tony Esposito said Sunday.

One employee came in contact with the powder but didn't appear to have symptoms, and five workers in the building were given prescriptions for the antibiotic Cipro, Esposito said. He said the post office was closed, pending tests results expected Tuesday from the state health department.

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