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The Nation

U.S. Downgrades Terror Alert Level From 'Orange' to 'Yellow'

Security: Potential attack operations were disrupted but risk remains, officials say.

September 25, 2002|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Administration officials on Tuesday lowered the terrorism alert level from "code orange," which indicates a high risk of attack, to "code yellow," saying the likelihood of a terrorist strike has lessened but that the Al Qaeda network still has operatives in the United States bent on attacking Americans.

The threat assessment level was elevated one notch two weeks ago for the first time since it was established last March because authorities said they had received intelligence information about potential strikes keyed to the first anniversary of Sept. 11.

On Tuesday, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and Tom Ridge, head of homeland security, cited the disruption of potential terrorist operations in the United States and abroad as the reason for downgrading the threat level. Those included the recent arrest of six U.S. citizens near Buffalo, N.Y., who have been accused of providing support to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.

Ashcroft and Ridge also said in a statement that senior Al Qaeda operatives have been captured in Pakistan, and that other lower-level members of the group have been apprehended in Singapore, Yemen and Bahrain.

"I want to emphasize that we are not saying there is no risk," Ashcroft said at a news conference on an unrelated matter. "We consider the risk to still be an elevated risk. It's a very serious risk. And we ask for citizens to remain alert."

In their joint statement, Ashcroft and Ridge said the lowering of the threat level was "not a signal to government, law enforcement or citizens that the danger of terrorist attack is passed."

"Detained Al Qaeda operatives have informed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials that Al Qaeda will wait until it believes Americans are less vigilant and less prepared before it will strike again," they said.

The change in status, approved by President Bush, came after Bush met with senior administration officials who review daily intelligence and law enforcement information and weigh the potential for attacks on U.S. targets. The threat level was raised two weeks ago after intelligence agencies warned that Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in South Asia were planning car bombings or other attacks on American facilities abroad on or around the anniversary of the Sept. 11 hijackings.

The highest threat level is red, indicating specific evidence of an imminent attack or that an attack is already underway. Officials have yet to activate that level of alert.

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