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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 18:40 GMT
US raises terror alert
FBI Director Robert Mueller (l) with US Attorney General John Ashcroft at a press conference
Ashcroft (r) said US "soft targets" were at risk
The US Government has put the country on the second-highest level of security alert because of an increased risk of terror attacks on American targets at home and abroad.

Military policeman checks a lorry near the Pentagon
The Pentagon was one of the 11 September targets
US Attorney General John Ashcroft raised the alert from "yellow" to "orange", saying the decision was based on specific intelligence reports, which warned of a high risk of attacks.

Mr Ashcroft said the reports showed an increased likelihood of an attack by al-Qaeda on "soft targets" in America in mid-February, including apartment buildings and hotels.

On Thursday, the US State Department issued a separate worldwide alert to Americans, warning them of an increased threats of attacks, using chemical and biological weapons.

The BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says the measures will confirm for many Americans that they are entering a period of conflict and danger - with war in Iraq widely regarded as a certainty now and retaliation against the US plainly a strong possibility.

'Chatter activity'

Announcing the decision, Mr Ashcroft and senior US officials said the cause for concern were specific intelligence reports corroborated by multiple sources.

Red: Severe risk
Orange: High risk
Yellow: Significant risk
Blue: General risk
Green: Low risk
Mr Ashcroft said since the 11 September attacks, it was clear that al-Qaeda was determined to step up terror against Americans.

He said that the raised alert would trigger a series of security precautions around the country.

The secretary of the newly-created Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, urged Americans to "remain aware and remain alert".

The US officials also said Americans should take some time to prepare for emergencies, thought they stressed that they did not believe an attack was inevitable.

Earlier, the officials warned of an increase in the so-called "chatter" - contacts between people suspected of plotting attacks.

They said the "chatter" activity coincided with the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and the threat of a war in Iraq, which might bring retaliatory attacks on the US.

The last increase to "orange" alert level was on 10 September 2002 - ahead of the anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington.

The alert level was lowered back to "yellow" - the middle of a five-colour range - two weeks later.

The US developed colour-coded risk levels last year as part of a new "National Alert System" in the wake of the 11 September attacks that killed about 3,000 people in New York and Pennsylvania and outside Washington.

The BBC's Matt Frei
"The clock is ticking, the days of denial are over"
John Ashcroft, US Attorney General
"The decision has been made to increase the threat condition designation "
The BBC's Justin Webb
"He wasn't advising that large scale events be cancelled"

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08 Feb 03 | Americas
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