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US Lowers Terror Alert Level One Step - 2004-01-09

The United States has lowered its terror alert level by one step, saying threats over the recent holiday season have diminished.

The secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge, announced the alert level has been lowered from high, or orange, to elevated, or yellow, because there are fewer credible terrorist threats than when the level was raised on December 21.

Secretary Ridge says when the level was increased shortly before Christmas, intelligence information indicated the nation was under the most serious threat since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

"I know that we are all thankful that nothing happened," he said. "The holidays have passed. The potential danger that large gatherings present during the holidays has passed. They passed safely and without incident. We believe this is a testament to the incredible level of awareness, information-sharing and communication that stretched across the country and around the world. We know from experience that the increased security and vigilance that accompany a raise in the threat level does make a difference in deterring and disrupting a terrorist attack."

Secretary Ridge said security will remain high around some industries and in certain parts of the country, although he declined to be specific.

Aviation security is expected to remain tight, and Mr. Ridge said information indicates that al-Qaida terrorists still want to use commercial aircraft to attack the United States.

During the higher alert Britain, France and Mexico canceled flights to the United States after U.S. officials shared intelligence about possible terrorist threats to aviation.

Armed air marshals were ordered on some planes, and U.S. fighter jets escorted a number of incoming flights.

Secretary Ridge says, while the alert level has been lowered, the country remains on guard against terrorist attacks.

"Let me emphasize that, although we have returned to yellow, we have not let our guard down," he said. "Yellow still means that we are at an elevated risk of attack. We will maintain particular vigilance around some critical resources and locales. So the force of homeland security continues to move forward."

The terror alert has been raised to orange several times since the color-coded system was put into place in 2002.