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Terror threat lowered to Yellow

From Jeanne Meserve and Mike Ahlers

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Twenty-nine days after raising the national threat level to Orange, or high, the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday reduced the level one notch to Yellow, or elevated.

New York City is to remain on Orange alert, and airspace restrictions for Washington and New York introduced during the war against Iraq will remain in place but under review.

The threat level was raised from elevated to high at 8 p.m. on March 17, when U.S. President George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to step down as the leader of Iraq.

At that time, the White House said intelligence from many sources indicated the al Qaeda terror group might attempt to launch attacks against U.S. interests, claiming it was defending Muslims or Iraqis.

In a written statement, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said the decision to lower the risk level followed a review of intelligence and an assessment of the threats by the intelligence community.

"While we continue to be at risk to the threat of terrorism at an elevated level, extensive protective measures remain in place throughout our nation," he said.

A Bush administration official, explaining the decision to drop the threat level to Yellow, said there has been an decrease in the volume of intelligence chatter, and the intelligence that was continuing to come in was from a narrower range of sources, and from sources not considered highly credible.

The official said that under threat level Orange, "We believe there were some people in some locations where they should not have been" and investigations continue. He would not provide specifics.

New York, which has been at Orange since the September 11 attacks, is to continue its Operation Atlas counter terrorism initiative, the police department said Wednesday.

"We are maintaining the current status because New York remains under a greater risk of terrorism than other parts of the country," said Michael O'Looney, police deputy commissioner.

"Although there is no specific threat of terrorism against New York, Operation Atlas remains in effect."

Random patrols

Although the air restrictions remain in place over New York and Washington, other security measures introduced during Operation Liberty Shield are being scaled back.

State and local government officials and the business community have been advised that continuous police presence around critical infrastructure is no longer necessary, but that random patrols should continue.

At a panel forum Monday, Ridge said he believes that raising the threat level -- and America's awareness of possible terrorist incidents -- might be serving as a deterrent.

"I'm not sure we're ever going to be able to say that because we raised it from Yellow to Orange or because we modified, changed or enhanced security at this facility, at this bridge, at this tunnel, that it deterred a terrorist from acting," Ridge said.

"But we feel very strongly that it is a very, very important part of how we prosecute domestically the war on terrorism."

Ridge said that America is safer under a Yellow level today than it was under the identical level one year ago because more security practices have become a matter of routine.

It was the third time in the one-year history of the color-coded threat warning system that Ridge had heightened the alert.

He first raised it around the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and raised it again in February, citing the increased likelihood that al Qaeda would attempt to attack Americans during or after the Hajj, the Muslim religious period.

All three periods of heightened alert passed without incident.

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