SPECIAL REPORT: U.S. goes to code orange: High attack risk, dirty bomb feared

| 2/7/2003

The Bush administration Feb. 7 raised the national terror alert from yellow to orange, citing a U.S. intelligence warning of a "high risk'" of terrorist attack, a senior administration official said. The highest alert level is red.

The alert has been at code yellow, or "elevated," which is the middle of a five-point scale of risk developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was last raised to orange in September. It stayed at orange then for two weeks to coincide with the first anniversary of the attacks.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision was based on an increase in intelligence pointing to a possible attack around the Muslim holy period of the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to the holy Saudi city of Mecca, The Associated Press reported.

Government officials have grown increasingly concerned about the likelihood of terrorist attacks within the United States as intelligence sources are reporting an increase in terrorist activity or "chatter." One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said this activity appeared to be peaking and was rivaling that seen before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Officials are increasingly worried that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups might try to use chemical, biological or radiological weapons such as a "dirty bomb" that spews radiation into the atmosphere over a relatively confined area. There is no evidence, they say, that al-Qaida has acquired nuclear weapons, but there is ample proof that it was working with a variety of harmful substances.

There is also concern that individual al-Qaida member or sympathizers could attempt small-scale attacks, such as a shooting or suicide bombing.

Although al-Qaida has been largely driven from its former refuge in Afghanistan, the FBI cites the October nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia, that killed nearly 200 and November attacks on a resort and airliner in Kenya as evidence the network can still inflict great damage.

As in the past, officials said they had no information regarding specific terrorist threats and no indication of a time, place or manner of any attack. The FBI, however, is preparing to tell Congress that al-Qaida remains the greatest threat for carrying out a terror attack on U.S. soil.