US puts Gulf forces on attack alert

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THE UNITED States has put its forces in the Gulf on alert against a possible terrorist attack, the Pentagon said yesterday, citing specific intelligence warnings.

The announcement follows State Department warnings to Americans in the seven Gulf states that an attack was possible in the next 30 days. The warnings applied to Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Yemen.

Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon said that there was "significant, credible evidence" that an attack was being planned. "Most of our forces in the Gulf are now in a threat condition called `Charlie', which is the third out of four threat conditions," he said, which meant "that an incident has occurred or intelligence has been received indicating that some form of terrorist action is imminent".

The intelligence for the warnings comes from US and foreign sources, the Pentagon said. While there are regular threats against US facilities and personnel, it is broadcasting these warnings very publicly. "We pick up reports of possible threats against Americans, diplomats, and military people all the time... And we assess these reports. Some we take more seriously than others. This we take seriously," Mr Bacon said.

Physical security has been toughened at US bases, troops will be largely confined to base, some are under curfew, and those allowed to leave have been told to travel in small groups and to vary their travel patterns. The US has nearly 25,000 military personnel in the Gulf, most of them at sea. There are deployments in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to patrol the skies over southern Iraq, and the US Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain.

Bomb attacks on the US embassies and Central Intelligence Agency stations in Kenya and Tanzania killed hundreds earlier this year. The US blamed Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile who has called for US troops to be withdrawn from the Gulf, and launched missile attacks on camps in Afghanistan linked to Mr bin Laden and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. It said there was a high chance that groups linked to Mr bin Laden would retaliate, although did not link yesterday's warnings to him. The US has issued an arrest warrant and $5m (pounds 3m) reward for Mr bin Laden.