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Ashcroft: Al Qaeda intends to attack U.S.

Homeland security chief says terror alert level will not be raised


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Attorney General John Ashcroft: "The face of al Qaeda may be changing."
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Seven identified as suspected terrorists who might be planning attacks.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft says the credible intelligence is disturbing.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al Qaeda intends to attack the United States in the coming months, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Wednesday.

"This disturbing intelligence indicates al Qaeda's specific intention to hit the United States hard," Ashcroft said in a news conference. "Beyond this intelligence, al Qaeda's own public statements indicate that it is almost ready to attack the United States."

Ashcroft said that after the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, Spain, "an al Qaeda spokesman announced 90 percent of the arrangements for an attack on the United States were complete."

Ashcroft cited a number of upcoming events that could be potential targets, including the Group of Eight economic summit on Sea Island, Georgia, and the Democratic and Republican national conventions in Boston, Massachusetts, and New York, respectively.

He also warned that terrorists may not have a typical look and that "the face of al Qaeda may be changing."

Ashcroft said the group adapts quickly to new security measures and may be recruiting operatives in their late 20s or early 30s and "may travel with families to lower their profile."

"Our intelligence confirms al Qaeda is seeking recruits who can portray themselves as Europeans," he said.

Also during the news conference, . photographs of seven people being sought in connection with terrorism investigations were presented. The names and photos of six of them have been shown previously.

Ashcroft said the seven "all pose a clear and present danger to America" and "should be considered armed and dangerous."

Among the seven were suspected al Qaeda operatives Adnan G. El Shukrijumah and Aafia Siddiqui, two law enforcement sources said.

The photos were shown as part of "be on the lookout" alerts, sent to law enforcement agencies across the country and around the world.

Government sources have said in the past that El Shukrijumah, born in Saudi Arabia, is believed to be a Yemeni. He has family in Guyana and is believed to have a passport from that South American nation, the sources said. He uses several aliases and also may have other passports, they said.

The sources described him as a field organizer and strategic planner for al Qaeda.

They also said he spent time in Florida.

El Shukrijumah and Siddiqui were among those named by captured al Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as al Qaeda operatives, government sources said.

FBI director Robert Mueller said: "We currently do not know what form the threat may take. And that is why it is so important that we locate the seven individuals. Though we do not have any reason at this time to believe that they are working in concert, we will not take any chances."

He added: "We need the public, both in the United States and -- I'll emphasize -- overseas to be on the lookout for these seven individuals. We want to know whether you've seen them in your communities, or that someone might be hiding them. If you have any idea where they might be, we need you to come forward."

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, however, said Wednesday that he did not plan to raise the color-coded terror alert level for the nation. The terror threat level is at yellow, or elevated.

Officials said security will be unprecedented for the World War II Memorial dedication Saturday in Washington. More than 140,000 people, many of them elderly, are expected for the event. (Full story)

More than 35 federal, state and local agencies have been involved in planning for a year. Some 1,000 law enforcement officers are expected to be on hand in addition to special support and response teams.

CNN's Kelli Arena, Kevin Bohn, Terry Frieden, Jeanne Meserve and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.


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