Friday, January 14, 2005

Ridge Says U.S. Remains Top Al Qaeda Target

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States remains al Qaeda's top target, despite a recent decline in intelligence pointing specifically to plans for a U.S. attack, outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said on Wednesday.
"We can't be any less vigilant because the level of intelligence that speaks specifically about us over the past couple of months has been reduced," Ridge said at a briefing hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington.

"I don't think we can lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day the United States and our economy and our way of life is still their (al Qaeda's) primary target," he said.

Ridge said it was "somewhat illusory" to suggest that the decline in information about attacks directed at the United States was anything other than a possible "strategic decision during a particular period of time to concentrate most of their efforts in a particular part of the world."

After several months of increased threat levels in parts of the United States ahead of the November 2004 presidential elections, alert levels have now returned to the normal "elevated" position across the country in the absence of new intelligence about planned U.S. attacks.

Still, officials say they are imposing unprecedented security to protect the inauguration of President Bush on Jan. 20, the first such ceremony since the Sept. 11 2001, attacks.

Ridge said on Tuesday that although there was no specific threat to the ceremony itself, security would still be heightened in Washington during the swearing-in and the four days of celebrations opening Bush's second term.

Ridge, who is stepping down from his post at the end of this month, said there were no plans to raise the nation's color-coded terror threat level, which was established after Bush declared a war against terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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