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Kuwaiti said to be source behind high alert

Omar al-Faruq
Omar al-Faruq  


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Intelligence officials have identified the al Qaeda prisoner who was the primary source of information prompting the United States to go on a high state of alert.

Kuwaiti national Omar al-Faruq "only recently started to talk," the officials said.

"He is in U.S. custody but not in the U.S.," a senior official told CNN. Al-Faruq ran al Qaeda operations in Southeast Asia until his arrest in Indonesia about two months ago, U.S. officials say. He was turned over to the United States in recent weeks.

These officials have told CNN the man has provided "specific and credible" information about plots to attack U.S. facilities in Southeast Asia. It was this key information from al-Faruq that led to the president's decision to put the nation on "high" alert. The information was received at the CIA midday Monday.

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U.S. officials for the first time Tuesday raised the nation's terrorist alert status from "yellow" to "orange," signifying a high risk of terrorist attacks.

Al-Faruq was a member of Jemaah Islamiyah, a group that U.S. officials say has ties to al Qaeda and is expected to be put on the State Department list of terrorist organizations.

U.S. officials say they also have information from other al Qaeda members about possible threats to U.S. targets in the Middle East, as well as intelligence "chatter" suggesting lower-level members of the terrorist group may try to mark the September 11 anniversary with less sophisticated, smaller-scale terrorist attacks.

One senior State Department official said the information was credible "because it's specifically detailed, and it specifically fitted into what we [already] had."

While officials said the threats deal with U.S. facilities overseas, they emphasized the nation's intelligence agencies heard similar "chatter" last year at this time.

"Remember, last year we thought if there were an attack it could be overseas. We were incorrect," a senior FBI official said.

Embassies and consulates have been closed for a review of their "security posture" in Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as in Malawi, Pakistan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Tajikistan.

A senior State Department official said the offices closed were not the only U.S. facilities under threat of attack but appeared more vulnerable.

He cited as an example the embassy in the Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which does not have a "setback" from main roads and is next to the street. He said a similar situation exists in Hanoi, Vietnam.

After the 1998 terror bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, the State Department was advised to place its embassies at least 100 feet back from main roads and thoroughfares.

CNN correspondents Barabara Starr and David Ensor contributed to this story.



 
 
 
 


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