‘Election threat’ noted

WASHINGTON – Federal officials have information suggesting that al-Qaida has terrorists in the United States preparing to mount a large-scale attack this summer, sources familiar with the information said Tuesday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller will hold a joint news conference this afternoon to discuss the threat and to ask Americans to watch for suspected al-Qaida operatives who may be in the country, officials said.

The concerns are driven by intelligence obtained about a month ago indicating that an attack may be planned between now and Labor Day.

That information dovetails with other intelligence “chatter” suggesting that al-Qaida operatives are pleased with the change in government resulting from the March 11 terrorist bombings in Spain, and may want to affect elections in the United States and other countries.

“They saw that an attack of that nature can have economic and political consequences, and have some impact on the electoral process,” said one federal official with access to counterterrorism intelligence.

Intelligence and law enforcement officials are trying to strengthen security at the presidential nominating conventions this summer in New York and Boston. They are also concerned about the possible targeting of other prominent events, starting with the World War II Memorial ceremony Saturday in Washington, D.C.; the G-8 Summit June 8 and 9 in Sea Island, Ga.; and the Olympic Games in August in Athens.

Homeland Security Department officials said Tuesday no announcement is scheduled about raising the national terror threat level.

The Justice Department and FBI plan to ask for the public’s help today in locating several suspected terrorist sympathizers, including some whose names have not been made public.

In April, an FBI bulletin to law enforcement agencies warned of possible truck bombs, and a source familiar with the government’s threat discussions said Tuesday that truck bombs are a primary concern.

“I’m more worried than I was at Christmas,” said one senior U.S. intelligence official, comparing the “election threat” with the canceling of specific airline flights during the holidays. He said the U.S. government is convinced there are still as-yet-unidentified al-Qaida operatives in the United States waiting for the word to launch plots.

“They are here, and there are indications they are preparing” attacks, said the official, who is barred by government policy from being named.

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