WASHINGTON (AP) – Worried that war in Iraq could lead to terrorist reprisals at home, the Department of Homeland Security raised the terror alert yesterday to orange, indicating a high risk of attacks, and implemented enhanced security measures nationwide.
“Operation Liberty Shield” was announced just as President Bush completed his speech giving Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq.
The homeland security plan includes more Border Patrol officers, stepped-up patrols at seaports, airports and nuclear power plants, and increased safeguards over the nation’s food supply.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge also called on governors to deploy National Guard troops or extra state police to protect bridges and other key infrastructures.
The terror alert was raised from yellow, or elevated, to orange, the second-highest level on a five-color scale. Counterterrorism officials said the decision was based on threats from al-Qaida, Iraqi operatives and freelance terrorists.
“A large volume of reporting across a range of sources, some of which are highly reliable, indicates that al-Qaida probably would attempt to launch terrorist attacks against U.S. interests claiming they were defending Muslims or the Iraqi people rather than Saddam Hussein’s regime,” Ridge said in a statement.
He also referred to “reports of suspicious activity in and around military facilities, ports, waterways, general infrastructure and targets that are considered symbolic to U.S. power and influence.”
The FBI has increased surveillance on certain Iraqis in America and other suspected terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. Homeland Security officials said any asylum-seeking Iraqis and people from 33 other countries would be detained for background investigations.
In his address, Bush warned of the possibility of terrorist attacks and cited some of the steps the government has taken to protect U.S. citizens and interests.
“In recent days, American authorities have expelled from the country certain individuals with ties to Iraqi intelligence services,” the president said. “Should enemies strike our country, they would be attempting to shift our attention with panic and weaken our morale with fear. In this, they would fail.”
This is the third time the administration has raised the terror alert since the system was put in place about a year ago. It is the first time the level was raised by the Homeland Security Department, which took over the color system from the Justice Department on March 1.
U.S. counterterrorism officials say the most specific information points to possible attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East. A recent statement from Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of al-Qaida, declared some solidarity with Iraqis, although he referred to Saddam’s government as infidels.