Texas said to be terrorist target

| 6/25/2003

U.S. intelligence agencies early this month eavesdropped on two suspected al-Qaida operatives discussing potential terrorism in Texas timed for the July Fourth weekend, raising fears of an attack on energy facilities in the Houston area, the Houston Chronicle reports.

That information, which did not specify a target, an exact time or a type of terrorist attack, was passed along to state officials.

"We get these reports on a regular basis," an official with the Department of Homeland Security said. "We are currently in the process of assessing the credibility of the report concerning Texas. We have informed the authorities in Texas of the information we received and told them we were trying to determine its credibility."

The possibility that al-Qaida terrorists inside the United States were plotting attacks was highlighted last week with the arrest of Iyman Faris, an Ohio truckdriver who pleaded guilty May 1 to plotting to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge. Faris began cooperating with the FBI after his guilty plea and had been helping authorities gather information on other suspected domestic terrorists.

With Texas as the target, officials are especially concerned about oil or gas facilities and pipelines because al-Qaida terrorists in the past have talked about attacking the energy sector as a way of damaging America's economy, officials said.

"We are aware of this threat, but beyond that we can't comment," said Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. "We are going to be checking out different things to see what we can find, but that is all that I can say."

Soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, the oil refineries and port facilities of East Texas were recognized as vulnerable targets that could be attractive to terrorists. In recent weeks, the Homeland Security Department announced about $30 million in grants to upgrade security at port facilities where oil is shipped in Houston and Beaumont.