FBI Releases New Terror Warning

ByABC News

Oct. 11, 2001 -- The FBI has issued a chilling but vague warning that new terror attacks may be launched against the United States in the coming days.

MORE INVESTIGATIVE NEWS:

• Allies Hold $24 Million in Terror Funds

• Third Anthrax Case Discovered

"Certain information, while not specific as to target, gives the government reason to believe that there may be additional terrorist attacks within the United States and against U.S. interests overseas over the next several days," the FBI said in a release issued this afternoon.

Since the Sept. 11 suicide hijacking assaults on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, U.S. officials have consistently maintained a high state of alert for possible future attacks. But this is the first formal warning issued by the FBI.

"The FBI has again alerted all local law enforcement to be on the highest alert and we call on all people to immediately notify the FBI and local law enforcement of any unusual or suspicious activity," the release continued.

The new warnings have been prompted by what law enforcement sources say is new intelligence. Before warning the public, the FBI had been asking federal offices, local police and utilities to be on high alert.

In one release provided to the U.S. Treasury Department, the FBI warned of "the need for heightened awareness concerning the potential use of chemical/biological and/or radiological/nuclear weapons of mass destruction as a precautionary measure."

The warning cited no specific threat, but cautioned building officials to be prepared to shut down air handling systems in the event that a terrorist attempted to use ventilation ducts to spread toxic substances.

Change in FBI Focus, Culture

Top U.S. officials today said the federal government was making efforts to thwart another attack.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, interviewed on ABCNEWS Nightline Thursday night, explained how agents had been refocused on terror prevention, amounting to a "a new culture — a culture of prevention."

"So much of our efforts in the past, so many of them have been devoted to prosecution," he said. "We haven't forsaken that as an objective, but our priority has to be prevent, to curtail, to disrupt, to interrupt, to keep from happening again the kind of event that could take another 5,000 lives."

The change of focus, in practical terms, could mean the FBI would risk ruining an investigation and proper, careful, full gathering of evidence for prosecution in order to try prevent an act of terror.

"If we end up ruining a criminal case because we, instead of waiting to see the crime committed or withdrawing and waiting for further evidence to develop, we warn and we interrupt," said Ashcroft.

President Bush on Thursday in a rare prime time press conference urged Americans to "go about their lives."

"Now, if we receive specific intelligence, where we [receive] a credible threat that targets a specific building or city or facility, I can assure you, our government will do everything possible to protect the citizens around, in or near that facility," he said.

Hospitals on Alert

Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country also were put on alert this week, warned in an e-mail to "Please assure that heightened security measures are taken appropriate to location and surroundings."

Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, part of a nationwide network of medical professionals who work with the U.S. Public Health Service during times of crisis, were told to be prepared to deploy in 12 to 24 hours. Vaccines are are being readied to move and emergency personnel are being told that they may have to dispense medications.

Justice Department officials said the fact that the public is now being given the same warnings does not necessarily mean there is any greater likelihood of an attack.

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Check back for continuous updates on the hunt for terrorists from ABCNEWS' worldwide investigative team.

Allies Hold $24 Million in Terror Funds

The U.S. financial war on terrorists has frozen more than $24 million in assets around the world.

At a Cabinet meeting today, President Bush announced to reporters that $40 million had been held, but he was later corrected by Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. The White House has asked banks and governments worldwide to block funds related to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network al Qaeda and to Afganistan's ruling Taliban militia, which is harboring the group.

"We've just begun," the president said. "We want theterrorists to know that we're after them in all kinds of ways, and onegood way to make them ineffective is to cut off their money."

O'Neill told reporters that 102 nations had agreed to join the U.S. effort to block terrorist funds, but only 62 have actually taken any action yet.

Though Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that has not taken any action, a Treasury official said the nation appears to be taking steps to track and block terrorist assets and cooperate.

Third Anthrax Case in Florida; Criminal Probe Opened

A third person has tested positive for anthrax exposure in Florida, and the FBI opened a criminal investigation into exposures to the deadly bacteria.

Acting U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis said the latest victim is a 35-year-old woman who asked not to be identified and who worked at the headquarters at American Media Inc. — the Boca Raton, Fla., tabloid company that has been exposed.

"The criminal investigation will focus on answering three basic questions: how and when was the bacteria admitted into building, when did it happen and why," he said.

The woman returned to work today and was being treated with antibiotics.

Though it's now a criminal case, Attorney General John Ashcroft told ABCNEWS today, "We continue to stress they have no evidence that this is linked to terrorism."

Anthrax spores caused the death last week of Bob Stevens, a 63-year-old photo editor for The Sun, one of several supermarket tabloids published by American Media. Tests revealed that another employee, Ernesto Blanco, had spores in his nasal passages. Blanco is being treated at a Miami-Dade County hospital.

The Centers for Disease Control said it could not yet confirm whether Blanco had actually been infected with anthrax. But Blanco's family told ABCNEWS the 73-year-old man nearly died over the weekend.

Federal authorities have said the anthrax spores responsible for Stevens' death were not naturally occurring but rather a crude kind isolated in a laboratory. After combing through the American Media offices, the FBI found traces on only one computer keyboard that was used by Stevens before he died last week.

While investigators think a criminal attack would more likely have spread anthrax through the building, they also say the strain of lab-isolated bacteria found almost certainly rules out a lone crackpot. Preliminary tests suggest the spores may be from a particularly deadly vaccine-resistant strain that may have been first harvested in an Iowa veterinary research lab in the 1950s. The tests are not yet conclusive.

ABCNEWS' Brian Ross, Pierre Thomas, John Miller, Katy Textor Brian Hartman and Madeleine Sauer contributed to this report.

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