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U.S. Dismisses July 4 Threat to Nuclear Sites

THE NATION

May 14, 2002|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — White House and Justice Department officials Monday dismissed a recent intelligence tip about possible attacks against U.S. nuclear facilities on or around July 4, saying it is uncorroborated and came from an unreliable source.

"Our guys just aren't taking it seriously," said a Justice Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The intelligence folks they talked to were not taking it seriously; [the] story was uncorroborated, like the vast majority of the intelligence tips that come in from foreign sources."

The threat, first reported Monday by the Washington Times, was received by U.S. officials sometime last week. It suggested that an unidentified Islamic terrorist group was planning to attack a nuclear facility--perhaps the Three Mile Island power plant near Harrisburg, Pa., or another facility in the Northeast.

The Justice official said the tip came from intelligence officials in Europe and did not generate any escalated threat warnings or communications among U.S. counter-terrorism officials.

The official also specifically said the tip did not come from Abu Zubeida, the high-ranking Al Qaeda official who has told authorities about planned attacks at U.S. financial institutions and shopping malls. Zubeida was captured March 28 during a morning commando raid in Pakistan and has been talking to his U.S. interrogators, officials said.

Authorities have said they are skeptical of Zubeida's claims, but given his stature as one of Osama bin Laden's top commanders, they are investigating them--and in one instance issued warnings to financial institutions about possible terrorist attacks.

Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security, said authorities are discounting the tip about a July 4 attack, even though they believe Al Qaeda operatives have an interest in attacking such facilities.

"We have known for some time that Al Qaeda is interested in attacking our infrastructure, including our nuclear power facilities," Johndroe said.

"But we have received no new information that indicates that an alert needs to be sent out."

Johndroe also said U.S. officials have taken steps since Sept. 11 to improve the security at dozens of nuclear facilities nationwide.

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