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US Issues New Suicide Hijacking Warning - 2003-07-29

U.S. airlines are being told to step up security in light of new warnings about the possibility of more terrorist attacks by al-Qaida both here in the United States and overseas. With the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaching, authorities say they have received indications pointing to threats of more suicide hijackings around the world.

A U.S. official tells VOA this intelligence suggests al-Qaida may be plotting to hijack commercial airliners in the United States as well as in Italy and Australia in the days leading up to the September 11 anniversary.

"Al-Qaida continues to want to harm America," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, warning that even though some high level al-Qaida members are now in custody, the war on terrorism is far from over.

"The Department of Homeland Security did issue an advisory over the weekend to airlines and security personnel based on some intelligence received about al-Qaida's continued interest in commercial aviation in America and abroad," he added.

"I think that anybody who has flown on an airplane since September 11 knows that the security, while better, is not perfect and you have to be concerned that they're just going to try to grab some more airplanes," said John Pike, the director of Global Security.Org.

U.S. officials say the credibility of the intelligence is still being assessed and that the threats are not specific to targets or plots. There has often been an upsurge in intelligence indicating possible terrorist activity around important national events like anniversaries and holidays and September 11 would be no exception. "September 11 was the greatest single terrorist act in recorded history. Obviously, al-Qaida is going to want to do something even more spectacular," stressed Mr. Pike.

But at this point, authorities are not planning to raise the national terrorist threat level, from "elevated" where it stands now, to "high."