WASHINGTON — Counterterrorism officials on Thursday were assessing a new report of a threat of an attack in New York City or Washington using a car or truck bomb, timed to the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to several officials briefed on the matter.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, Matt Chandler, called the threat “specific, credible, but unconfirmed.” Another official said U.S. intelligence agencies were urgently pursuing leads overseas in an effort to gauge the seriousness of the threat.
“It’s in the early stages, and a lot of vetting is being done in other places,” the official said.
President Barack Obama was first briefed on the threat Thursday morning, and members of Congress were briefed during the day, officials said.
A White House official said that while the government has already stepped up its vigilance in advance of the anniversary, “the president directed the counterterrorism community to redouble its efforts in response to this credible but unconfirmed information.”
The report of the threat came after several quiet weeks in which officials said they were scanning intelligence with extra vigilance before the anniversary, but had found nothing credible.
Chandler noted that in a notebook of Osama bin Laden seized after he was killed, the leader of al-Qaida speculated about mounting an attack 10 years after 9/11 or on another symbolic date.
“As we always do before important dates like the anniversary of 9/11, we will undoubtedly get more reporting in the coming days,” Chandler said. “Sometimes this reporting is credible and warrants intense focus, other times it lacks credibility and is highly unlikely to be reflective of real plots under way.”
But he said officials take all threat reports seriously. “We continue to ask the American people to remain vigilant as we head into the weekend,” he said.
One law enforcement official said the initial intelligence report said that at least three suspects in a reported plot, one of them an American citizen, left Afghanistan and entered the United States by air last month. Intelligence agencies have not confirmed the report or identified those involved, the official said.
The official, who like others would speak of the investigation only on the condition of anonymity, said there was no connection to rental trucks reported missing in Kansas City, Mo. The trucks have been recovered and are not believed linked to the threat.