Iraq Link Focuses School Worry on 6 States


Oct. 7, 2004 — -- Schools in six states in particular are being watched closely based on information uncovered by the U.S. military in Baghdad this summer, law enforcement and education officials told ABC News.

A man described as an Iraqi insurgent involved in anti-coalition activities had downloaded school floor plans and safety and security information about elementary and high schools in the six states, according to officials.

School officials in Fort Myers, Fla.; Salem, Ore.; Gray, Ga.; Birch Run, Mich.; two towns in New Jersey; and two towns in California have been told to increase security in light of the discovery.

Law enforcement officials say information on both elementary schools and high schools was included on the insurgent's disc, and that some of the schools involved were under construction this summer.

The ongoing construction was of particular interest to law enforcement officials. The terrorists who attacked the school in Beslan, Russia — where nearly 340 people were killed, many of them children — are thought to have hidden weapons in that school while it was under construction this summer.

Officials in the New Jersey towns, Franklinville and Rumson, were notified by counterterrorism officials last month that their schools had been possibly singled out.

"Once we were notified, we immediately put a plan into effect," said Dwight Pfennig, deputy commissioner of education for the state of New Jersey.

And William Matthews, superintendent of schools in Jones County, Ga., sent a letter to parents, faculty and staff last week notifying them that security was being increased during the election season.

"In an effort to be proactive and ensure the safety of all, we are reviewing our school safety plans," Matthews wrote in the letter. "You may notice an increase in law enforcement visibility as well as other measures designed to provide a safe and pleasant environment."

Matthews said in the letter that the information was not considered a threat.

School officials in Salem, Ore., told ABC News affiliate KATU that local law enforcement has no knowledge of a specific threat to any schools there. "The safety of students and staff is a priority to us, and we will continue to make every attempt to keep them secure," Salem Superintendent Kay Baker told KATU.

On Wednesday, the federal government warned schools nationwide to look out for suspicious activity that might signal terrorist activity, and told school officials to be on the lookout for anyone spying on their buildings or buses, expressing interest in obtaining site plans, and other types of suspicious activity.

The warning followed an analysis by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department of the last month's school siege in Beslan.

Law enforcement officials said they had no easy explanation why an insurgent in Baghdad would be gathering such specific information about American schools, some of them in small towns.

And though the information was recovered in July, it was not given urgency until the attack in Beslan.

Ultimately, officials say they are hoping to increase security in schools and heighten awareness without causing parents nationwide to panic.

ABC News' Richard Esposito contributed to this report.

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