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Ridge Says al-Qaida Threat Information Updated in January - 2004-08-03

U.S. Department of Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge says the terror intelligence that placed areas of the nation's capital, New York City and New Jersey on high alert was updated as recently as January. He was responding to reports that intelligence gathered about a potential al-Qaida attack against financial centers was three to four years old.

Mr. Ridge says there are no signs that al-Qaida operatives conducted recent surveillance on the targeted financial buildings, but the intelligence information is still alarming.

"The casings that we revealed on Sunday have been updated as recently as January of this year, and we know this is an organization that plans in advance, that prepares and has patience," he said.

The intelligence led the U.S. government to place several financial institutions on high alert Sunday, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan, and Prudential Financial in northern New Jersey.

According to reports, some intelligence officials revealed late Monday that files from a computer seized last week during raids in Pakistan indicate that al-Qaida operatives collected much of the information about the buildings prior to the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks.

Mr. Ridge says officials are still analyzing the intelligence information, which he says came from "multiple sources."

The homeland security chief met with New York Governor George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and security officials from some 30 financial institutions on Tuesday to discuss ways to strengthen private security in the wake of the latest threat. The meeting was held at the Citigroup Center, the headquarters of one of the organizations that is allegedly being targeted by al-Qaida.

Mr. Ridge says the elevated alert will remain in place for now.

"In this day and age, in a country that is as open and diverse as ours, when we literally have 600 million people that come across our borders every year, I think within the Department [of Homeland Security] and within the country, we just assume that there are operatives here," he said.

In response to the terror threat, heavily guarded security officers continue to surround major financial institutions throughout New York City and Washington, D.C. police have also increased their presence at high-profile buildings and bridges.