A terrorist attack in New Mexico? It’s possible, an FBI spokesman says.
A possible attack against New Mexico or California was planned for May, but intelligence suggests it was thwarted by increased security in both states, said FBI Special Agent William Elwell.
Elwell, who is based in Albuquerque, said Thursday that he could not go into details. But he said the FBI received the information last week.
“We had obtained information that possible al-Qaida elements, which exist in California and possibly New Mexico, were planning a possible terrorist attack. It possibly was to have occurred in May in one of those states,” Elwell said.
“But the attack was called off due to increased security. The attack was unspecific in its scope or location.”
Elwell said the FBI notified local law enforcement agencies in both states late last week soon after receiving the information.
“We just provided the information to local law enforcement as a matter of sharing information,” Elwell said. “We just let local authorities know there was a possible attack planned and they were unable to accomplish their attack.”
Elwell declined to say how the FBI obtained the information. “That was gleaned as a result of intelligence information we obtained.”
Elwell said no arrests were made in connection with the intelligence.
He said authorities have no way of knowing whether an attack would be planned for a later date.
Local authorities said no precautions beyond the usual are planned.
Brig. Gen. Annette Sobel, New Mexico’s director of Homeland Security, said Thursday that there was no reason for added precautions.
“It’s important for New Mexico citizens to know there is not a change in the overall threat level,” Sobel said.
Officials at Albuquerque International Sunport said they were not taking additional security steps. Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo also did not go to heightened security, spokesmen said.
Spokesmen for Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory said their agencies continue to coordinate security with federal authorities.
“Sandia has been notified by the FBI of a nonspecific threat. In terms of what Sandia is doing, our usual process is to keep our eyes peeled for anything unusual,” spokesman John German said.
The warning has not led to changes in security at Los Alamos Lab, spokesman Kevin Roark said.
“We are constantly assessing emerging threats and adjusting our security strategies,” Roark said.
Despite an operations shutdown at Los Alamos, laboratory personnel still would be available to assist in any emergency, Roark said.
News of a possible attack in New Mexico or California was reported Thursday morning. Initially, local authorities said they were unaware of it.
However, later Thursday, authorities said they had been briefed on the intelligence last week.
James Hunter, emergency manager for the city of Albuquerque, said he presumed the reports involved a new threat when he was initially contacted by reporters Thursday morning.
“There is no new information. That information is days old. That stuff has been out there for some time,” Hunter said.
Hunter also said local police and other emergency response agencies are not doing anything different as a result of the information.
“Albuquerque was never mentioned. But obviously, whenever New Mexico is mentioned, we pay more attention.”
U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, applauded the FBI for warning New Mexico and California.
“To my knowledge, there are no specific threats, times, dates or locations given by the FBI,” Domenici said in a statement.
“However, New Mexico is a state with several prominent installations, so it is important that the FBI pass along relevant information that it has received to local law enforcement officials.”
Domenici urged residents to remain alert and report any suspicious activity.
Tribune reporters Shea Andersen and Sue Vorenberg and The Associated Press contributed to this story.