U.S. braces for terrorist attacks abroad
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration warned Sunday that American citizens and U.S. interests around the world could be targets of retaliatory terrorist attacks following the beginning of U.S. military strikes against Afghanistan.
In a new Worldwide Caution, the State Department said Sunday's military action "may result in strong anti-American sentiment and retaliatory actions against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world by terrorists and those who are sympathetic to or otherwise support terrorism."
"Americans in Afghanistan, which continues to harbor international terrorist Osama bin Laden, should depart the country," it said.
It cautioned Americans around the world to "monitor the local news, maintain contact with the nearest American embassy or consulate and to limit their movement in their respective locations."
In particular, the Bush administration is closely watching specific countries in Asia with large Muslim populations where many Americans live: Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
One senior administration official said due to the large number of anti-American protests in Indonesia, in particular, its president is "sitting on a time bomb" and for that reason "can't be seen to support us [the U.S.] too strongly."
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage contacted U.S. embassies in key countries by telegram and telephone to "see that their security was at the highest possible level," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
In addition, Boucher said, the State Department sent instructions to all U.S. embassies around the world to inform them about the military action.
Boucher said extra steps have been taken to ensure the safety of Americans and diplomatic personnel overseas. Additional security measures have also been implemented at the State Department's Washington headquarters.
A senior State Department official told CNN those measures include closing off surrounding streets and increasing security personnel in and around the building.
The official said that the U.S. embassies worldwide are asking host governments to contribute additional resources to "help protect Americans."
Additional measures could be taken, he said "based on ground assessments" of the security situation in each post by respective ambassadors and their staffs.
U.S. officials have said in recent days that some further terrorist attacks against Americans could follow any military action against Afghanistan.
"It is pretty clear that Osama bin Laden had his response prepared as soon as the U.S. attacks happened," one senior administration official said, referring to a taped statement by bin Laden on television Sunday. "So others could be just as prepared to respond with an attack."
The official told CNN that while an extraordinary number of arrests have been made and a significant amount of intelligence gathered about bin Laden's al Qaeda's terrorist cells around the world since the September 11 attacks, there is no way of knowing how effective those efforts have been at preventing terrorist attacks which were already in the planning stages.
"We are unraveling things very quickly," he said. "But we are no way near the bottom."
Officials say there are a lot of "indicators" that another terrorist attack against Americans is in the works. These officials say there has also been an increase in threats against Americans overseas.
"The uptick in threats is significant enough to show there could be an attack," a senior administration official told CNN. "We don't know what it is, but our intelligence tells us there is another attack coming."
"The problem is ... there is nothing particular we can point to," another official told CNN. "There is a lot of intelligence being developed but the threats lack specificity and, in many cases, credibility. We are fired up but we are kind of in a lull while we wait for any reaction."
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U.S. Department of State
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