BOSTON — Authorities have launched a manhunt across the Northeast for four Chinese nationals described by the FBI as potential terror suspects who may be heading for Boston.
Authorities insisted that there was no confirmed threat.
Federal law enforcement officials said they had received a tip Wednesday about an unspecified threat against Boston, and released photographs of the two Chinese men and two women they were seeking.
The governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire decided to skip President Bush’s inauguration Thursday and returned to their states from Washington.
“To assure the people of Boston and Massachusetts that it is safe to be at home, I am going to be sleeping in my bed in Massachusetts tonight and I feel perfectly safe doing so,” said Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. “In the very remote circumstance that my attention is needed, I will be able to respond on an immediate basis.”
Bruce Cheney, director of New Hampshire Emergency Services, said Massachusetts authorities asked his agency to be ready with radiological testing technicians in case Massachusetts needed them.
“Based on the information we have received from federal officials, it does not appear that there is any cause for alarm,” New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch said. “The tip received by the FBI is unconfirmed and uncorroborated. Massachusetts officials have asked us to be prepared to offer support if it is needed, and we have made the necessary preparations.”
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and Kenneth Kaiser, special agent in charge of the Boston FBI office, identified the suspects as Zengrong Lin, Wen Quin Zheng, Xiujin Chen, Guozhi Lin.
Authorities said none of the names had appeared on previous watch lists of terror suspects, and their whereabouts aren’t immediately known.
A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the matter remains under investigation, told The Associated Press that the FBI’s joint terrorism task force has not yet corroborated a tip that the suspects entered the United States through Mexico in recent days, possibly bound for Boston.
The official stressed the tip is one of many from across the country that routinely are forwarded to local task forces for further investigation. No credible, specific terror threat has been identified.
The news of the FBI search quickly ballooned into a frenzy of media reports that the suspects planned a dirty bomb attack in Boston.
Mayor Tom Menino, at a news conference, said there was “a lot of misinformation out there,” adding there was no credible basis for those reports. Attorney General Thomas Reilly wouldn’t confirm the dirty bomb reports, and stressed “it’s important for people not to be unduly alarmed.”
Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said representatives from six or seven state agencies would be on duty throughout the night at the state emergency bunker in Framingham — far fewer than the 30 or 40 agencies present during a full-blown emergency activation.
“We’ll stay active through the night tonight, until this thing resolves itself,” Judge said.