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US on highest level of alert

by James Langton in New York

Security measures across America were being tightened today amid growing fears of a second wave of terrorist attacks.

Possible targets now range from nuclear power stations, drinking water reservoirs and any industry using hazardous materials, with law-enforcement agencies and the armed forces now operating at an unprecedented level of alert.

Combat fighters at 26 air bases are on standby to protect America's 103 nuclear power reactors, ready to intercept and open fire if necessary if there is any attempt to repeat the hijacking of a passenger jet.

Power stations have been placed on the highest level of alert, with patrols by armed guards and access to secure areas restricted to essential staff.

Richard Meserve, head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, admitted yesterday that the possibility of a suicide mission using fuel-laden commercial jets had never been considered until the attacks of 11 September. Reactor sites were now "considered part of the homeland defence", he said.

The FBI is also urging water companies to step up security measures after fears of deliberate contamination using chemical or biological weapons. Boats have been banned from using reservoirs and water testing has been stepped up. Intelligence agencies believe terrorists might also try to cut off water to major cities by blowing up dams and pumping equipment.

With the FBI now seeking nearly 400 people in connection with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the underground network of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists and their supporters inside the United States is far bigger than previously realised.

Three men were arrested in San Diego, California yesterday, under suspicion of providing forged identity cards for the hijackers. Their arrest brings the total held to 353.

The Attorney General, John Ashcroft, said last night that he believed there was "a potential for additional terrorist incidents". He revealed that the FBI had discovered an attempt by several suicide hijackers to obtain hazardous material transport licences for lorries in what seems to be further confirmation that plans were being laid to use biological or chemical weapons inside the US.

Around 20 people have been charged after they made fraudulent attempts for licences to drive tankers. Mr Ashcroft warned that: "Terrorism is a clear and present danger to Americans today.'' He is also asking Congress for the right to detain or deport immigrants suspected of terrorist activities and increased powers to wire-tap telephone calls.

The authorities also know that the terrorists, including Mohammed Atta, who piloted American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center, had shown interest in buying small cropspraying planes, which can disperse up to 800 gallons an hour. One even asked for a Department of Agriculture loan to buy a plane. A two-day ban on crop-spraying was lifted by the Federal Aviation Administration yesterday.

The Washington Post also reported the testimony of a convicted terrorist collaborator in the trial of an Arab in July who was convicted for an attempt to bomb Los Angeles International Airport in 1999. The witness, Ahmed Ressam, claimed to have been trained in the use of chemical weapons at a camp in Afghanistan. He described an incident of a dog being placed in a box filled with cyanide and sulphuric acid. "We wanted to know the effect of the gas," Ressam said, adding it had taken the dog four minutes to die.

Airline security is now the top priority in the US, with a growing dispute over the best way to prevent hijackings. The Airline Pilots Association formally requested the right to carry guns yesterday and has changed guidelines to warn crew members that they must be prepared to kill anyone breaking into a cockpit.

Pilots are asking for guns with "frangible bullets'' which disintegrate on impact and fragment and cannot puncture the pressurised skin of a jet. A union spokesman, John Mazor, said: "The cockpit has to be defended at all costs." The union also wants cockpits to be equipped with stun guns and reinforced doors.

The American FAA has said it would prefer to use armed sky marshals and may recruit members of the National Guard to fly on planes until more are trained. President Bush will announce more airline safety proposals tomorrow.

-- Swissrose (, September 26, 2001


All the evidence now seems to be pointing toward chemical and biological attacks next. If this thought does not send tingles up and down your spine, nothing will.

I think the very thought of this kind of barbarism should make President Bush's agenda every American's own, simply that all terrorism with a global reach must be totally wiped out, down to the last cell, no matter what it takes to achieve, or how long.

-- Howard Freeman (, September 26, 2001.

To me the most shocking thing about this article is the possibility of making all facilities that house hazardous wastes a target. How many thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of these facilities do we have in the U.S.? Plenty, I would bet. Nuclear release in this sense would be a lot easier than we think.

-- Uncle Fred (, September 26, 2001.

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