Ceremende A HUNT has been mounted for two al-Qaeda operatives who officials fear have flown in to the US from Afghanistan to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Counterterrorism officials were tipped off that the men planned to stage a car bomb attack to coincide with the September 11 anniversary. New York and Washington have been put on high alert after a Middle East informant revealed the new al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had ordered the bomb plot. The Washington Post reported the informant told the CIA that at least two men, one of whom could be a US citizen of Arab ancestry, arrived in the country as early as seven days ago, according to senior American law enforcement officials. There was a third man involved in the plot, the informant said, but he appeared to have travelled to Europe.
Joe Biden, the US Vice-President, confirmed intelligence had 'specific' information from a 'credible source' that a plot involving 'a car bomb' may be under way. However, he stressed: 'We don't have a smoking gun.'
The Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, named al-Qaeda as being behind the suspected threat. The New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said the police, FBI 'and entire intelligence community have been on heightened alert'. But the informer's intel on the plot was second or third-hand, an official said.
Despite the apparent lack of detail, both cities increased security ahead of ceremonies in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, which killed almost 3000 people. The President, Barack Obama, and former president George Bush are to attend a ceremony at Ground Zero in Manhattan.
Ceremonies will also be held at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where all 40 passengers and crew members died when United Airlines flight 93 was flown into a field.
Yesterday, authorities deployed bomb-sniffing dogs on the Washington subway, police searched vehicles on New York's Brooklyn Bridge and heavily armed officers were posted at major railway stations.
Two senior American law enforcement officials said an informer in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region passed word of the plot on Wednesday. The informer said two men left Afghanistan, travelled through one or more other countries before the US. Agents are examining passenger lists.
The informant gave a vague physical description of the two men - one described as 152 centimetres tall, the other 172 centimetres. One of the men used the name Suliman, common in the Middle East.
'All this information is very, very sketchy,' one of the law enforcement officials said.
US intelligence analysts said they were examining the possibility that the suspected plot was ordered by Zawahiri, and that it was accelerated after a US drone strike last month killed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a Libyan who had taken over as al-Qaeda's top operational planner.
In their haste to speed up the attack, which may also have been planned to commemorate Rahman's death, the plotters may have allowed word of the scheme to leak out.
One federal official said the informer reported that the two plotters were told if tight security made a car or truck bomb impossible, they should try a less complicated attack that would spread panic. Although Mrs Clinton and Mr Biden publicly discussed the threat, they tried to strike a balance between urging vigilance and preventing panic.
'There are specifics, in that sense it was credible,' Mr Biden said on the ABC News program Good Morning America, 'but there's no certitude'.
The increased police presence forced drivers heading towards Manhattan on the Brooklyn Bridge to squeeze into a single lane and through a gauntlet of police officers, who walked around the cars. More bomb sweeps of parking garages were planned; ferries were to be given extra police; and cars parked illegally were to be towed.
Officials briefed on the threat offered varying views of how serious it was, and some suggested that the strong reaction from federal and local agencies reflected heightened wariness around the anniversary.
In a notebook found in the compound of bin Laden after he was killed in May, the al-Qaeda leader mused about the possibility of mounting an attack on the September 11 anniversary. To help ease public concerns Mr Bloomberg went to his office by subway on Friday.
'It's serious, but I think the right answer is to go about your business,' he said. 'We've got to make sure we don't let the terrorists take away our rights without any terrorism. If you do lock yourself in your house because you're scared, they're winning.'
Source : The Telegraph London, The New York Times and http://english.kompas.com/read/2011/09/11/03571083/US.Alert.over.Bomb.Plot