US prepares for terrorist attacks

 

With a new public threatfrom al Qaeda, U.S. law enforcement officials said todaythey were preparing for other possible attacks on America,adding warnings about ferries to those involving commercialairlines.

"I feel every day that we operate toward the notion thatthere will be one," Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridgetold NBC's "Meet the Press."

Attorney General John Ashcroft, speaking on "Fox NewsSunday," said "The potential for us to be hit again is a veryreal potential."

The officials spoke in regard to an audio tape purportedlyfrom top al Qaeda official Ayman al-Zawahri warning the UnitedStates on Sunday it would pay a high price if it harmeddetainees at a U.S. base in Cuba, saying the "real battle" hadnot yet begun.

Washington is holding more than 600 people from 42 nationsat the Guantanamo naval base. Zawahri, considered to be alQaeda leader Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, vowed to avengeevery killing and ruling passed against Muslims.

Ashcroft said U.S. authorities had not authenticated thetape but he dismissed as ironic the notion al Qaeda would waitto inflict further harm on the United States.

"I believe al Qaeda wants to strike us. I believe they wantto strike us whenever and wherever they can. I believe we havedisrupted dozens and dozens and dozens, over a hundredterrorist-related attacks around the world since 9/11,"Ashcroft said.

The United States blames al Qaeda for the Sept. 11, 2001,suicide hijacked aircraft attacks on America that killed about3,000 people.

Ridge said he was grateful another attack against Americanshad not yet occurred.

"There are probably a lot of reasons for it. But I'mgrateful and every single day that we work to thwart or preventa terrorist attack and reduce our vulnerability makes ittougher and tougher for them to assault us," Ridge said.

Ridge's department last week warned the airline industrythat al Qaeda was planning new suicide hijackings and bombingsin the United States or abroad, saying the danger would lastuntil at least the end of summer.

U.S. President George W. Bush said "the threat is a realthreat" and was confident any attacks would be thwarted.

Ashcroft said no change was made in the nation's terroralert level, with authorities opting instead to share specificthreat information with relevant authorities. He said suchinformation "appeared to be more redundant, more repetitive inthe intelligence community and more corroborated."

The terror alert level remains at "yellow" or an "elevated"risk of attack, where it has generally been since the systembegan in March of last year.

A day after the United States suspended programs that allowsome foreigners to enter the United States without a visa,Ridge said a new advisory had also been sent out to ferryoperators nationwide, warning of possible attacks.

"It was specific information about ferry operators," hesaid, but like other such warnings, was issued as aprecaution.

Ridge also conceded that "it will be several years until weget the kind of robust system that we need" to protectAmericans at home. "We are not where we need to be ... but wewill get there," Ridge said.

Ashcroft said he and his family would be flying on acommercial aircraft this month. "I believe air travel is safe,"he said.