For at least the third time in three months, the FBI is warning law enforcement officials nationwide to be on alert for chemical and biological attacks, ABCNEWS has learned.
In its latest bulletin, sent out today to 18,000 law enforcement agencies, FBI officials warned that while there is no specific threat, al Qaeda and groups sympathetic to its cause "continue to enhance their ability" to launch attacks designed to cause "mass casualties."
The bulletin describes a number of chemical and biological agents that could be used in an attack and describes symptoms that would emerge from exposure to those agents.
The FBI bulletin warned that these terror groups could use chemical agents such as hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen chloride, sodium or potassium cyanide, mustard gas, anthrax, botulism toxin or ricin in an attack.
Intelligence sources told ABCNEWS the government's concerns about a chemical and biological attack are based on no new specific information, but on general chatter and documents seized from Afghanistan, Pakistan and other locations.
No Specific Threat But Great Concern
This latest FBI bulletin comes as the nation remains on a state of high alert for terror attacks. Last week, the Bush administration raised the domestic threat level warning to orange, or "high," a decision made in part because of a series of threatening messages found on the Internet. A previous FBI bulletin obtained by ABCNEWS pointed to two recent e-mails intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
The latest bulletin cites no specific threats, and it is unclear if the bureau was sending the series of bioterror warnings to be extra-cautious, or because investigators fear such an attack may be in the planning stages somewhere.
One source told ABCNEWS that there is real concern on the issue. Officials, the source said, are concerned specifically about cyanide, although no one has any date for any attack. There is fear that terrorists could be storing the deadly poison for an attack two years from now or on the Fourth of July, but officials simply do not know.
A perhaps coincidental Arabic magazine article also may be concerning officials. Sources provided ABCNEWS today with a government analysis of a published e-mail interview with a purported al Qaeda leader, identified as Abu Mohammad al-Ablaj, in which he hints about poison attacks in the United States. In the interview, al-Ablaj did not rule out al Qaeda using new combat techniques, such as using sarin gas or poisoning drinking water in U.S. cities or in other Western nations.
The analysis said that the magazine got an e-mail warning of the recent bombings in Saudi Arabia shortly before the attacks killed 34 people.
Today's bulletin echoes similar warnings sent out by the government agencies in February, when the nation was also on high alert during the the end of the hajj, a Muslim holy period, and amid growing war tension with Iraq.
During that time, the U.S. State Department issued a "Worldwide Caution" advisory to Americans and warned there was a "growing threat" that terrorists may use "nonconventional weapons, including chemical or biological agents." In New York, hospital officials were warned to be prepared to deal with a possible cyanide attack and to build up stocks of sodium thiosulfate, the antidote to cyanide poisoning, as well as treatments for biological and chemical warfare.
The FBI sent out another, similar bulletin in March, when it warned law enforcement agencies across the country about the threat of attack from individuals trying to make improvised chemical weapons. In that warning, FBI officials said terrorists could make chemical weapons out of easily available items, such as canisters and paint cans, and use chemical agents such as hydrogen cyanide or chlorine gas.
Neither of these previous bulletins was based on specific threat information.
Pierre Thomas and Chris Vlasto contributed to this report.