Claiming that attacks on its financial institutions are imminent, the US government has raised its alert level.
Washington warned on Sunday of possible attacks against "iconic" financial institutions in New York City, Washington and Newark, New Jersey, saying a confluence of intelligence over the weekend pointed to a car or truck bomb attack.
The following buildings were specifically mentioned as potential targets:
- The Citicorp building and the New York Stock Exchange in New York City
- The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank buildings in Washington
- The Prudential building in Newark.
"The preferred means of attack would be car or truck bombs," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said.
He said the government's threat level for financial institutions would be raised to orange, or high alert, but would remain at yellow, or elevated, elsewhere.
Ridge added it would be up to New York City officials to decide whether to move to the highest level, red. The city has remained on orange since the 11 September 2001 attacks.
Ridge said the government took the unprecedented step of naming specific buildings because of the level of specificity of the intelligence.
"This is not the usual chatter. This is multiple sources that involve extraordinary detail"
US Homeland Security Secretary
"This is not the usual chatter. This is multiple sources that involve extraordinary detail," Ridge said.
He acknowledged that protecting these buildings, located in heavily populated areas, would require additional security measures, especially because thousands of cars and trucks travel through these cities daily.
Indicative of al-Qaida
The government provided a wealth of detail it had picked up in the past 36 hours, but a senior intelligence official described it only on condition of anonymity. The official described, on the basis of suspicion, "excruciating detail" and meticulous planning "indicative of al-Qaida".
The official said the intelligence included security in and around these buildings; the flow of pedestrians; the best places for reconnaissance; how to make contact with employees who work in the buildings; the construction of the buildings; traffic patterns; locations of hospitals and police departments; and which days of the week present less security at these buildings.
A White House spokeswoman, Erin Healy, said the intelligence on the threat was "very new, coming in during the last 72 hours".
"The president made the final decision today, agreeing with the recommendation of Secretary Ridge to go ahead and raise the threat level in these select areas," she said.
US politician and former presidential candidate Howard Dean criticised the suspicions or "terror warnings" for New York and Washington as "unhelpful" on Sunday.
Dean warned that 'terror' claims
could be used for political ends
In a televised interview, Dean was sceptical of the warnings issued by US authorities, questioning the usefulness of calling on citizens to look out for "suspicious" vehicles.
However, he said there was an advantage in the current situation in naming the specific threat to the region, saying that usually the warnings were too vague and poorly substantiated.
The Democratic party politician expressed concern that the subject of terrorism might be abused during an election campaign to make political gains.