St. Petersburg Times Online: World and Nation

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Fighting terror

Ridge ready to raise alert level again

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 2003


WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge joined federal law enforcement officials Thursday in warning that suicide bombings like those that have killed hundreds of people in Israel are inevitable in the United States and will be difficult to prevent.

The warning, in a television interview, came as Ridge and his department stepped up preparations to raise the nation's terrorism alert level out of concern about the possibility of terrorist attacks linked to an invasion of Iraq.

In his interview with Fox News, Ridge said, "We have to prepare for the inevitability" of suicide bombings in the United States.

"The No. 1 thing we seek to do is to prevent any kind of terrorist attack," he said, "but that lone wolf, that isolated suicide bomber might be the most difficult to protect against."

Ridge's comments were his bluntest warning to date about the possibility that suicide bombers might strike. Similar remarks have been made in recent months by intelligence and law enforcement officials, including the FBI director, Robert S. Mueller III.

Federal law enforcement officials and aides to Ridge emphasized that his comments did not reflect any recent intelligence suggesting a specific threat.

Administration officials said Ridge expected to seek the approval of President Bush as early as next week to raise the color-coded threat alert level to orange, reflecting a "high risk" of an attack, linked to an American invasion of Iraq.

Five enemy fighters killed in gunbattle

BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- Attackers firing machine guns ambushed a convoy of U.S. Special Forces in eastern Afghanistan, prompting a fierce barrage from U.S. troops and coalition aircraft that killed five enemy fighters, an Army spokesman said.

The ambush Wednesday, which left no soldiers injured, came as Army officials said intelligence shows al-Qaida or remnants of the ousted Taliban regime could intensify attacks in Afghanistan if the United States launches war on Iraq.

In Wednesday's ambush, about 20 attackers positioned on mountain ridges fired small arms and machine guns at the convoy near the midway point on its route from Gardez to Khost, said Col. Roger King, an Army spokesman.

The Special Forces, who were accompanied by a few Afghan militiamen, called in F-16 fighters and A-10 aircraft as support in a chase and firefight that lasted several hours, King said. He said the planes dropped two 500-pound bombs on suspected enemy positions and fired hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

It was not immediately clear who attacked the convoy.

Frist will be trained to give smallpox vaccinations

WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is being vaccinated against smallpox today -- and he's being trained to vaccinate others in case of a smallpox attack.

A transplant surgeon before coming to the Senate, Frist is one of about 17,000 people to be vaccinated, still far short of the 450,000 federal officials had expected.

Frist, R-Tenn., will be trained to vaccinate others in the case of an attack. That training involves watching a 40-minute video and practicing administering the vaccine, using a saline solution.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.