'Major' terror attacks likely in the summer, warns US

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The Independent US

Al-Qa'ida is "almost ready" to launch a major attack on the US, possibly linked to a major event such as next month's G8 summit or the two party conventions later this summer, John Ashcroft, the attorney-general said yesterday.

Al-Qa'ida is "almost ready" to launch a major attack on the US, possibly linked to a major event such as next month's G8 summit or the two party conventions later this summer, John Ashcroft, the attorney-general said yesterday.

Citing what he claimed was "credible intelligence from multiple sources", Mr Ashcroft referred to an al-Qa'ida statement after the Madrid bombings in March that the terror group was '90 per cent' ready for an attack on America. Since then, other 'chatter' picked up by eavesdropping and other electronic surveillance indicated that preparations were almost complete to hit the US "and hit it hard".

Mr Ashcroft and Robert Mueller, the FBI director, also told Americans to be watch for seven suspected terrorists in particular. They include Adnan El Shukrijumah, a Saudi who has lived in Florida, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Both names are understood to have come up during interrogations of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks who was captured in Pakistan last year. Mr Ashcroft indicated that, if not these seven, then other al-Qa'ida operatives were already in the US.

Though US counterintelligence officials say the pointers to an attack are the most alarming since 2001, Mr Ashcroft said the intercepts had yielded no specific indications of when and where it might occur. Official said major cities, most notably New York, are obvious targets but they had been given no new information from Washington.

This fanned suspicions among Democrats that the latest alert might have been issued by the administration to switch national attention away from Iraq ­ which has caused President Bush's approval ratings to plunge ­ and back to 9/11 and the war on terror, still one of his strongest political suits.

But the list of high-profile events this summer that would make obvious targets for al-Qa'ida is unusually long, starting this weekend with the official dedication ceremony for Washington's new Second World War memorial, to be attended by President George Bush and several of his predecessors.

In June, G8 leaders hold their annual summit at Sea Island, Georgia, followed by the Republican and Democratic conventions. Then comes the election itself which, US security specialists fear, terrorist groups may try to influence with an attack similar to the Madrid train bombings just before the Spanish general election in March.

Hours before Mr Ashcroft spoke, Spencer Abraham, the US Energy Secretary, announced a $450m plan to prevent terrorists getting hold of nuclear materials that could be used for a "dirty bomb attack on a major US or European city.

He told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, that the initiative, involving Russia and the United Nations, would reduce the proliferation threat by cutting off access to materials "as quickly and expeditiously as possible."

The US has given Greece radiation detection equipment to help guard against a "dirty bomb" attack at the Olympics in August.

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