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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Natural Gas Facilities Could Be Targeted if Bin Laden Falls, FBI Warned

November 27, 2001|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The FBI has warned energy companies that Osama bin Laden may have approved plans to attack North American natural gas pipelines and facilities if he's captured or killed, a warning that prompted tighter security.

Natural gas producers and pipeline companies continued to be on a high state of alert, industry executives said Monday, although they refused to discuss the latest warning, which was sent in a memo to industry security officials last week.

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft confirmed the warning, though he expressed some doubt that Bin Laden's capture or death would be a condition for such an attack.

"It didn't take anything specific to trigger the attacks on the World Trade Center or the Pentagon," Ashcroft said when asked about the alert at a news conference. Even so, "those are the kinds of reports which we take seriously."

The alert did not single out a specific target but referred to natural gas supplies, including the more than 260,000 miles of gas pipelines and hundreds of pumping stations and other facilities.

"We have received uncorroborated information that Osama bin Laden may have approved plans to attack natural gas supplies in the United States," said the memo, according to several sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Such an attack would allegedly take place in the event that either Bin Laden or Taliban leader Mullah [Mohammed] Omar are either captured or killed," the alert said.

The FBI memo said the information came "from a source of undetermined reliability" and that authorities were unable to learn "additional details on how such an attack would be carried out, or which facilities would be targeted."

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the energy industries--including operators of nuclear power plants, refineries, pipelines and power grids--have scrambled to increase security in the belief that they could be singled out for another round of attacks.

One industry source characterized the FBI warning as similar to one issued earlier this month on potential attacks against West Coast bridges that prompted security alerts. In that case, no further evidence of potential terrorist activity emerged.

The alert was sent Nov. 17 from FBI headquarters to agency field offices, which forwarded the information to industry officials. The alert prompted the American Petroleum Institute--the lead industry group coordinating with the FBI and Energy Department on security matters--to issue a memo on Wednesday to oil and gas companies.

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