FBI Seeks Tips on 7 Linked to Al Qaeda
Officials Convinced Attack on U.S. Is Being Planned
By Susan Schmidt and John Mintz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 27, 2004; Page A01
The nation's top law enforcement officials, saying they are convinced al Qaeda is planning an attack on the United States in the coming months, issued an urgent plea yesterday for information about seven people who they said could be involved in such an effort.
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III asked for the public's help in tracking down six men and one woman associated with al Qaeda who either are familiar with the United States or have a history of involvement in attacks on U.S. interests.
All but one -- Adam Yahiye Gadahn, 25, a Southern California convert to Islam linked to top al Qaeda captive Abu Zubaida -- have been sought for many months by the FBI. Officials said they do not know whether any of the seven is in the United States.
"We need the public -- both in the United States and overseas -- to be on the lookout for these seven individuals," Mueller said at a packed news conference. "Have you seen them in your communities? Have you heard that someone might be helping them to hide?" If so, he said, "we need you to come forward."
Just hours before Mueller and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft spoke, however, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge appeared on five television networks telling the public to proceed with holiday plans and normal routines.
Ridge acknowledged the government's concern about the danger of an attack, but he offered a reassuring message as a counterbalance to the serious warnings from Ashcroft and Mueller.
"We need Americans to just go about living their lives and enjoying living in this country," Ridge said on CBS's "Early Show."
"America's job is to enjoy living in this great country and go out and have some fun," he said on CNN.
Ridge said there are no immediate plans to raise the color-coded terrorism threat level because the threat information is not specific enough.
The result was a message that left some saying that the government has offered little new information. "I haven't gotten specific information at all," said D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. "We have been talking about different events taking place this summer for a while," he said, adding: "The city itself is a target -- we already know that."
The government is tightening security for ceremonies inaugurating Washington's National World War II Memorial on Saturday and for other Memorial Day events, as well as security for the Group of Eight meeting of industrialized nations in Georgia next month; the two political parties' nominating conventions, in Boston and New York; the Summer Olympics in Greece; and the presidential inauguration next January.
Ashcroft and Mueller said they do not know where or how attacks might be attempted, but they noted that there are indications terrorists want to mount an attack that would affect the upcoming national elections, as they had done in Spain with the March 11 Madrid train bombings
"Credible intelligence, from multiple sources, indicates that al Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months," Ashcroft said. "This disturbing intelligence indicates al Qaeda's specific intention is to hit the U.S. hard." He said the information has been "corroborated on a variety of levels."
But he and Mueller also acknowledged that they are not certain any of the seven suspected al Qaeda associates is participating in the attack planning. They said FBI agents across the country will launch a new round of interviews in Muslim communities to try to develop information.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company