WASHINGTON — Intelligence gathered by the U.S. government indicates that al-Qaeda terrorists have a keen interest in striking targets far from major cities, such as power plants, dams and oil facilities in Alaska.
The Pentagon said Tuesday that it is broadening air patrols throughout the country.
The military is deploying surface-to-air missile systems in the Washington area and is considering locating more anti-aircraft systems in the New York City region, a Defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Some of the intelligence that led the Bush administration Sunday to put the nation on high “orange” alert for a terror strike dealt with general threats against remote facilities, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
One specific threat, they said, was against oil facilities in Valdez, Alaska, where tankers load Prudhoe Bay oil destined for other states.
One official cautioned that most of the reports were uncorroborated, some from a single informant or intercepted communication. But local officials boosted security at many such facilities, including the Port of Valdez, where armed Coast Guard patrol boats were more visible. “Making our presence known is a great deterrent,” Coast Guard spokesman Roger Wetherell said.
Other intelligence points to possible attacks in cities such as New York, Washington or Los Angeles. Aircraft continue to be a favored al-Qaeda method, particularly aircraft originating overseas and those carrying cargo. Both have less security than U.S. passenger aircraft.
Officials say there also seems to be interest in targeting holiday events that draw large crowds, such as college and professional football games and New Year’s celebrations and parades.
Patrols of warplanes will increase “over select cities and facilities,” said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The patrols are “more broad” than in the past, he said, when fighter jets focused patrols on such expected al-Qaeda targets as New York and Washington.
Government officials continued to convey a sense of guarded urgency about the latest terrorist threats, which have been described as the most serious since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the government acted appropriately in raising the terrorism risk level.
“You do not do it lightly,” he said. “You ask, ‘Is it serious?’ Yes, you bet your life.”
Overseas, officials in Turkey said they fear terrorists might be preparing to organize attacks on American, Israeli and other Western interests or on Istanbul’s most popular shopping mall. The U.S. Embassy in Bahrain warned of a terrorist attack in that Persian Gulf country and told Americans to curtail unnecessary travel and avoid places where Westerners gather.