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US terror alert after Algerian caught smuggling explosives

THE US Customs Service has placed all 301 ports of entry into the country on high alert, following the arrest of an Algerian who tried to enter last week with explosives and a detonation device. Ahmed Ressam, 32, was caught near Seattle as he drove off the ferry from Victoria, Canada, in a hired car.

A search of the car revealed more than 100lbs of bomb-making supplies as well as the sophisticated detonation device. Officials said Mr Ressam was a resident of Montreal who had been denied political asylum because of suspicions that he had links with the main Algerian terrorist organisation, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). He has been charged with transporting explosives into the US, providing false identification and lying to officials.

Montreal police said that Mr Ressam could be linked to an Algerian citizen who was extradited from Canada to France on charges of involvement in the 1995 Paris Metro bombing. They also said that he was suspected of involvement in a ring that stole money to fund Islamic terrorist groups. He had two convictions for theft.

The US authorities said that they were looking for a possible accomplice, who had been with Mr Ressam during his three-week stay in Victoria. They also noted that the equipment found in his car was very similar to that used by associates of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi citizen said by the US to have masterminded the 1998 bombings of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The alert declared by the Customs Service came just a week after the US State Department issued a global travel advisory notice to Americans living or travelling abroad, warning of the possible risk of a terrorist attack coinciding with millennium celebrations. However, there was no indication that the two events were directly connected.

The earlier warning was addressed primarily to Americans overseas and was subsequently linked to the arrest in Jordan of around 24 people suspected of being connected to Mr bin Laden. The latest reports say that as many as 200 people had been arrested in Pakistan, including one US citizen of Arab origin.

Ahmed Ressam's alleged ties appear to be with Algerian terrorism. While there was speculation - based on the location of the hotel he was booked in to - that he may have been planning a millennium attack in Seattle, or - based on a flight booking - that he was intending to travel to London, the same evidence could suggest that he was trying to escape arrest in Canada.

A KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747 bound for Amsterdam from New York made an unscheduled stop in Boston early yesterday due to a bomb threat, officials said. Flight 644, carrying 266 passengers and 13 crew from John F Kennedy airport, landed at Boston's Logan airport after authorities received two calls warning that it should be checked for a bomb.