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US Raises Terror Alert to 'High' - 2003-12-21

The Bush administration has raised the terror threat level in the United States to its second-highest level, warning Americans of an increased risk of attack.

Americans are now under a "high" alert for the holiday season.

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge made the formal announcement, saying "today, the United States government raised the national threat level from an elevated to high risk of terrorist attack or, as more commonly known, from a yellow code to an orange code."

Mr. Ridge said the action was taken because intelligence officials saw a substantial increase in the amount of credible information indicating possible terrorist activity. "The strategic indicators, including al-Qaida's continued desire to carry out attacks against our homeland, are perhaps greater now than at any point since September 11, 2001," he said.

He said there is information that extremists abroad are anticipating attacks that could rival or exceed those that occurred on that date, when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. He said there are even signs that al-Qaida may once again be plotting to use aircraft as weapons. "There is an additional risk and we are doing additional things to combat the risk," he said.

Mr. Ridge said security is being increased at airports, along America's borders and its shores, and where needed to protect key resources. He called these measures extensive and considerable.

The secretary of homeland security said Americans should be vigilant during this period of heightened alert, but should not panic. He urged them to use common sense and to go ahead with their holiday plans. "America is a country that will not be bent by terror. America is a country that will not be broken by fear. Instead America is a country marked by citizens of goodwill and great resolve. We will show the terrorists both during this holiday season," he said.

The color-coded terrorism alert system has been in place since March 2002. This is the fifth time it has been raised from yellow indicating elevated risk, to orange or high risk. It has never been increased to the highest level which is red.