Ashcroft calls for 'highest state of alert'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General John Ashcroft on Tuesday called on "all Americans to be on the highest state of alert" after an FBI warning of a possible imminent terrorist attack.
The FBI issued a terrorism alert Monday night for authorities to be on the lookout for a man from Yemen or Saudi Arabia and more than a dozen of his associates who may be planning an attack on U.S. interests in the United States or Yemen as early as Tuesday.
Speaking at a meeting of police chiefs in San Antonio, Texas, Ashcroft said the FBI alert was based on information garnered from U.S. military forces in Afghanistan and from interviews with detainees at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He said citizens should "report anything suspicious" to the proper authorities.
A senior U.S. law enforcement official told CNN the latest information about a threat was viewed as credible because it was specific about those allegedly involved in a plot.
The Bush White House approved the FBI's new terrorism alert as a precautionary measure because information came from multiple sources and it mentioned a specific date -- Tuesday, senior administration officials said.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the information about the threat was discussed during Bush's round of intelligence and homeland security briefings Monday.
The alert, posted on the FBI's Web site and sent to thousands of law enforcement agencies, identified Fawaz Yahya al-Rabeei, a Yemeni national born in Saudi Arabia in 1979, as one of the suspects.
U.S. officials told CNN that al-Rabeei has a brother who is being held by American and allied forces in Afghanistan.
"Recent information indicates a planned attack may occur in the United States or against U.S. interests in the country of Yemen on or around 02/12/02," the alert said.
"One or more operatives may be involved in the attack, including Fawaz Yahya al-Rabeei, also known as Furqan. Al-Rabeei is believed to be a Yemeni national born in Saudi Arabia in 1979. He may be traveling on Yemeni passport 00452004."
U.S. officials said Tuesday the first information about the terror threat came from a detainee in Guantanamo Bay. On Monday, he told his interrogators he had heard about the plot from another prisoner while they were being detained in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials said they then immediately interviewed the prisoner in Afghanistan who was said to be the original source. He gave them the names of people he had heard were plotting to attack a U.S. target on February 12, including the name of the alleged ringleader, Al-Rabeei.
The FBI said al-Rabeei's aliases may include: Fawaz Yahia Hassan Aribii, Fawaz al-Rubai, Fawaz Yehia Hassan al-Rabie, Fawaz Yahya al-Rabi'i, Fawaz Yahya al-Ribi (al-Ruba'i, al-Rabia'i, al-Rabi'i), Forqan al-Tajiki, Furgan al-Tajiki, Furqan the Chechen, Faris al-Baraq, Sa'id, Musharraf, and Salem al-Frahan.
The FBI said al-Rabeei's whereabouts are unknown.
"All individuals should be considered extremely dangerous," the FBI said.
In North Miami Beach, FBI agent Hector Pesquera said the names of al-Rabeei, his aliases and those of his associates were checked against various databases and agencies, and there was no indication that the men had entered the United States.
He cautioned, however, short of locating them, it was not "100 percent" certain they were not in this country.
The FBI has issued previous terrorist alerts based on credible but nonspecific threats. The last one was issued in January and was to expire in March.
The latest alert asked police "to stop and detain" any of the named individuals in alert and that all "should be considered extremely dangerous."
An emergency operator at the Secret Service command center in Salt Lake City, Utah, said, "Yes, we're aware of the threat but have no comment at this time" about whether the agency has changed Olympics security plans.
"There is no specific information indicating it's directed at Salt Lake City or the Olympics," said Craig Phillippe, an FBI special agent in Salt Lake. "But here in Salt Lake City, as we are across the nation, we're asking citizens to be especially vigilant."
One of the locations that U.S. intelligence officials fear may be under threat is Yemen, where 17 U.S. sailors died when the USS Cole was attacked in the port of Aden in October 2000.
Yemeni security sources said Tuesday they were "taking all necessary measures" to ensure the safety of their nation and its allies.
According to the Yemeni security sources, exhaustive inquiries into the FBI terror alert began after they were given information about al-Rabeei from the United States and Great Britain. The sources say this is the third threat in the past six weeks.
According to the information provided, they said, al-Rabeei intends to travel to Yemen from Afghanistan to carry out terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in Yemen.
Security officials said the information was being taken very seriously, but no entry into the country had been detected.
Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, departed Monday from Yemen after a meeting with President Ali Abdallah Saleh in which he congratulated him for his efforts to combat terror.
The alert does not appear to be connected to a manhunt in Yemen for two al Qaeda leaders wanted by the United States in connection with the bombing of the Cole.
CNN Correspondent Brent Sadler contributed to this report.
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