US warns of new al-Qaeda threat

“Credible intelligence, from multiple sources, indicates that al-Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said on Wednesday.

The FBI has released the names and photographs of seven suspected terrorists, six men and one woman, including an American.

Ashcroft said al-Qaeda has declared that preparations for an attack on the US were nearly complete.

During news conference with FBI Director Robert Mueller, Ashcroft said al-Qaeda may hope for a similar response to that which followed the March 11 train bombings in Madrid.

Those attacks influenced Spain’s election and led to the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq.

“Al-Qaeda may perceive that a large-scale attack in the United States this summer or fall would lead to similar consequences,” ahead of the US presidential election, Ashcroft said.

He said several events over the next few months may present attractive targets for an attack, including the G8 summit in Georgia in June, the Fourth of July holiday and the Democratic and Republican Party conventions in Boston and New York ahead of the November elections.

But Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said there were no plans to raise the colour-coded terror alert level, which is currently set at mid-point “yellow”, for an “elevated” risk of attack.

Ashcroft warned that al-Qaeda may be changing in the face of new security measures.

“Intelligence sources suggest that the ideal al-Qaeda operative may now be in his late 20s or early 30s and may travel with a family to lower his profile,” he said.

Ashcroft also said intelligence had shown that al-Qaeda was seeking recruits who could portray themselves as Europeans.

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