The U.S. government raised the national terror alert level to high on Tuesday amid fears that the recent wave of terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco could spread to the United States.
The threat level was raised from yellow, or elevated status, to orange, signifying a high risk of terrorist attack. Orange is only one step down from the highest level of alert.
The decision to raise the alert level came after top Bush administration officials reviewed intelligence reports based on intercepted communications suggesting an increased possibility of terrorist attacks inside the United States.
Asa Hutchinson, Undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security said, "There has been an increased specificity in terms of the threats that we hear, but not necessarily specific in terms of the target. And so that is the reason for the national increase in the alert level."
Mr. Hutchinson said al-Qaida continues to be the principal terrorist threat, but he said other anti-U.S. groups were of concern as well.
He also noted the recent attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco and said there was concern that terrorists might try similar tactics inside the United States. He said, "Those would include use of small-armed-equipped assault teams, large vehicle-born explosive devices and suicide bombers. This is not to indicate this is going to happen in the United States. But when we see a pattern of activity overseas directed at United States targets, we certainly have to be aware that there remains that potential of use of those type of tactics here in the United States."
Homeland Security officials are now encouraging state governors and local authorities around the country to take steps to bolster security, especially in areas where large public gatherings are planned.
Earlier Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge assured members of Congress that his new department is up to the challenge of making the country secure from terrorist attack.
"Today we are significantly safer than we were 20 months ago. We are safer because as a nation we are more aware of the threat of terrorism and much more vigilant about confronting it," Secretary Ridge said.
The last time the alert level was raised to "high" was during the war in Iraq. The level was brought back down to "elevated" once the major fighting was over.