President Bush says the United States remains on alert for terrorist attacks at home as it continues the war in Afghanistan. He stressed the international coalition's fight extends beyond Afghanistan.

President Bush said terrorists still want to hit the United States but he says the country is ready now that it realizes its vulnerability following the attacks of September 11. Mr. Bush dismissed criticism that some of his new security measures might endanger American civil liberties, saying his first responsibility as president is to protect the nation from attack.

"Any hint of somebody wanting to harm our country, we are acting," said Mr. Bush. "We have got thousands of FBI agents chasing-down every single lead. We respect people's Constitutional rights and we will continue to do so, but if we think somebody is fixing to hurt the American people, we will move in this country."

The president told a rally in the state of California that U.S. troops in Afghanistan are entering a dangerous part of their mission there as they continue cave-by-cave searches for terrorist leaders. "We are making steady progress in Afghanistan," he said. "The evil ones awakened a might giant. You know, we are a compassionate people and we are a decent people. But if you come after us, you will learn that you have made a big mistake."

Mr. Bush said the international coalition has made progress in cutting-off terrorist financing outside Afghanistan. He noted the coalition will continue to hunt for terror wherever it exists and pull it out by its roots. "Terror is evil," he said. "And wherever evil exists, the free nations of the world must come together in a massive coalition that says terror will not stand. And the United States is ready to lead that coalition, not only in Afghanistan but wherever we find terror."

Mr. Bush thanked the American people for their patience in this war against terrorism. He said the United States will not stop until it finds those responsible for the violence and brings them to justice. "They think they can run and they think they can hide because they think this country is soft and impatient," he said, "but they are going to continue to learn the terrible lesson that says don't mess with America."

Mr. Bush sent his condolences to the family of Nathan Chapman, the first U.S. serviceman killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan Friday. He assured Sergeant Chapman's parents that their son lost his life for a cause that is just - what the president called the security of the American people and the freedom of a civilized world.