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Wednesday, 11 September, 2002, 03:41 GMT 04:41 UK
Al-Qaeda 'planning attacks'
Aircrew on board US Gulf vessel
Gulf shipping has been warned of the heightened risk
The United States says it has firm information that Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network is planning attacks on US interests in Asia and the Middle East.

Intelligence showed al-Qaeda cells had been established in South Asia to carry out car bomb attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

Speaking on the eve of the 11 September anniversary, he also warned of suicide attacks in the Middle East.

These cells have been accumulating explosives

US Attorney General John Ashcroft

The military has now been told to deploy live missiles in air defence systems at the Pentagon and around Washington.

The move came shortly after a heightened alert was declared in the US.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Washington said Tuesday's statement by Mr Ashcroft was one of the most specific and detailed warnings issued by the US Government in a year of high alerts.

Precautions taken by the US authorities include:

  • US forces in Bahrain put on highest state of alert
  • US Vice-President Dick Cheney moved to secret location
President George W Bush said he was taking indications of new threats against the US "seriously", and that their pattern was similar to what had been heard prior to 11 September.

'Alert but defiant'

Mr Ashcroft told a Washington news conference there was specific and credible information about threats to American symbols.

These included US military facilities, embassies and monuments.


We are now at high risk of a terrorist attack

Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge
Four embassies in South East Asia had been ordered closed.

"Information indicates that al-Qaeda cells have been established in several South Asian countries in order to conduct car bombs and other attacks on US facilities.

"These cells have been accumulating explosives since approximately January of this year in preparation for these attacks," Mr Ashcroft said.

Military policeman checks a lorry near the Pentagon
The Pentagon was one of the 11 September targets
"The US intelligence community has also received information that one or more individuals in the Middle East are preparing for a suicide attack or suicide attacks against US interests", he said.

But BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says that if the threat does come from al-Qaeda it is out of character, because the organisation does not usually pay much attention to anniversaries.

The notion of striking US interests on the 11 September anniversary would make the organisation a little more predictable and perhaps a little easier to catch, our correspondent says.

There was no specific information at present about where the attacks might occur, Mr Ashcroft said.

Hand of al-Qaeda?
14 June 2002 Suicide bomb attack in Karachi targeting US consulate kills 11 people
11 April 2002 Bomb blast against synagogue in Tunisia kills 18
But he stressed that commemorative events in the US should go ahead as planned.

"We call on US people to remain alert but defiant in the face of this new threat", Mr Ashcroft said.

Tom Ridge, who heads the super-agency charged with overseeing domestic security in the wake of 11 September, added that the US was "at a high risk of a terrorist attack".

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has now authorised the deployment of live surface-to-air missiles around Washington.

Fighter aircraft armed with live weapons are already patrolling the skies.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Steve Kingstone
"Heat-seeking missiles surround the Pentagon"
US president Bush
"We have no specific threat"
Far Eastern Economic Review's Ahmed Rashid
"In the last few weeks there has been some revival of the Taleban"

New York despatches

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See also:

10 Sep 02 | Americas
10 Sep 02 | Americas
09 Sep 02 | Americas
08 Sep 02 | Middle East
14 Jun 02 | South Asia
23 Jun 02 | Middle East
10 Sep 02 | Americas
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