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FBI Again Warns of Potential New Wave of Terrorist Attacks

By Eric Lichtblau

and Josh Meyer

For the second time this month, the FBI on Monday put out an extraordinary alert warning Americans that it has “credible” reason to believe there could be new terrorist attacks against the United States in the next week.

The threat, though vaguely defined, was considered serious enough that Attorney General John Ashcroft canceled a trip to Toronto Monday afternoon. He also issued an immediate alert to the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies, urging them to be extra vigilant in coming days.

The warning appears to have been triggered at least in part by concern that cells of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network remain active and undetected in the United States and could be planning further attacks, according to law enforcement and intelligence sources.

The warning is likely to generate even greater security safeguards at nuclear and electrical plants, sporting events, border crossings, overseas embassies and a host of other sites that could be vulnerable to terrorist attacks, officials said.

Justice Department officials received word early Monday through unspecified channels about the prospect of a fresh round of attacks. They quickly briefed President Bush, who agreed with the decision to put out a public alert, officials said.

“The administration has concluded, based on information developed, that there may be additional terrorist attacks within the United States and against the United States’ interests over the next week,” Ashcroft told a hastily arranged news conference Monday afternoon. “The administration views this information as credible, but unfortunately it does not contain specific information as to the type of attack or specific targets.”

A similar warning put out by the FBI on Oct. 11, believed to have been based on foreign intelligence reports relayed to the CIA, triggered a debate over whether the administration had crossed the precarious line between informing the public and stirring hysteria.

With the spate of recent anthrax attacks, Monday’s warning is likely to trigger even greater anxiety than the first alert . FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said at the news conference that although the intelligence data does not include a specific target or an intended method, he believes that informing the public about even a broad-based threat “could well prevent another terrorist attack.”

Ashcroft said that he too felt compelled to publicize the threat. “I trust the American people to be able to understand, in this context of conflict, where there is a front overseas and there is another front here in the United States, that they can make good judgments and can understand this kind of information.”