WASHINGTON — Concern about possible year-end terrorist attacks spread across the nation Thursday as federal authorities revealed an apparent link between a suspected terror group and a Canadian woman arrested on charges of trying to illegally smuggle an Algerian man into the United States.
Papers filed in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vt., disclosed the first tangible evidence after days of speculation that an international terrorist organization might have ties to either of two Algerian suspects arrested with false passports at remote U.S. border posts in recent days.
U.S. prosecutors told the court that records showed the car and phone used by the Canadian woman, Lucia Garofalo, were registered to a member of the Algerian Islamic League, an extremist group that officials believe is involved in terror attacks in North Africa and Europe.
But the U.S. attorney in Vermont, Charles Tetzlaff, said "no evidence" yet connects the Vermont suspects to Ahmed Ressam, a 32-year-old Algerian arrested Dec. 14 in Port Angeles, Wash., after he tried to enter the country in a car containing ingredients for several bombs. Ressam has pleaded not guilty to charges that he illegally transported explosives and detonators across the border.
The investigation deepened in Montreal on Thursday as police raided the house of Ressam's accomplice, Abdel Majid Dahoumane. They did not find any bomb-making materials there but charged both men with illegal possession of explosives and making a substance intending bodily harm or property damage. Police are still searching for Dahoumane, and they released details of his appearance and a picture on the police Web site (http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca) in a public appeal for help.
In other unsettling, if perhaps unrelated, developments:
* The FBI issued an unusual predawn warning urging Americans to be on the lookout during the holidays for "bombs in small parcels" that may arrive in the mail from Frankfurt, Germany. Airlines and the U.S. Postal Service immediately took precautions, officials said.
* Citing increased threats of terrorist attacks, the U.S. Department of Energy ordered extra security precautions at the nation's nuclear weapon production and development facilities, as well as other DOE installations.
* FBI agents in New Jersey arrested a man alleged to have threatened in an Internet chat room to use a truck bomb to blow up tunnels leading into New York City. Although the FBI said the threat appeared to have been a hoax, bomb-sniffing dogs and extra police were assigned to guard the heavily used Lincoln and Holland tunnels.
The government earlier this week ordered tightened security at the nation's airports and border crossings, adding to travel problems for millions of people at the start of a once-in-a-millennium holiday season. Travel agents said some passengers appear to have canceled or changed plans because of fear of a terrorist strike.
Parties Cut Back in Some Cities
Several cities, including Seattle and Las Vegas, have dramatically scaled back their estimates of the number of tourists expected to attend long-planned public New Year's and millennium parties. Merchants in Las Vegas described a run on such disaster-related items as gas masks and bullet-proof vests.
While federal authorities still insist they have no credible evidence that either foreign or domestic terrorists have targeted a specific locale, they acknowledged they have received threats involving New York, Washington and Seattle.
"In those three cities, there has been at least some evidence, credible or unsubstantiated, that there have been threats," said an FBI official who asked not to be identified.
"The last thing we want to do is create an environment where everyone is looking over their shoulder and living in fear," the official added. "Everyone right now is in a heightened state of awareness, and it's important for the public to be aware of the information brought to our attention, even if it's uncorroborated."
Los Angeles police have "no information about specific threats against any potential targets" in the area, said police Cmdr. David J. Kalish. But he said the Los Angeles Police Department will deploy triple the usual number of officers next Friday night, paying particular attention to "government buildings and public facilities."
In Sacramento, Tom Mullins, spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis' Office of Emergency Services, said, "We're not discouraging anyone from going anywhere they want" to celebrate the new year. "I don't think there has ever been more law enforcement on duty as there will be that weekend."
U.S. officials appeared to downplay the overall danger, fearful that undue publicity not only could frighten the public but also could encourage copycat hoaxes and other disruptions. Officials again urged Americans to be more "vigilant" and to immediately report any unguarded or abandoned packages in public places.