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Homeland Security: Threat Level Yellow

April 16, 2003
Posted at: 9:49 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration lowered the national terror alert level to "yellow" Wednesday, suggesting the threat of terrorism linked to the war in Iraq has abated.

Ongoing reviews of intelligence regarding the threat of terrorist attacks against Americans led to the decision to lower the alert level to mid-range on the five-tier danger scale, said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

The threat level was raised to orange, meaning a "high" risk of terrorist attacks, on March 17, days before the war began. The new lower level signifies an "elevated" risk. Yellow is the middle level; orange is the second highest, and red the highest.

The conclusion of major fighting in Iraq as well as several other factors led to a decision to lower the alert level, Roehrkasse said. Many of the extra security measures imposed by the department's "Liberty Shield" operation also will end.

It's unclear whether the orange alert stopped any attacks in the works.

"We believe that during 'Operation Liberty Shield,' there were individuals in places, at times, where they should not have been," he said. "The investigations continue on those."

Roehrkasse declined to provide specifics.

The alert system is used to guide law enforcement agencies and businesses — as well as the general public — in their security decisions.

Counterterrorism officials said the decision to raise the alert status last month was based on threats from several quarters: al-Qaida, Iraqi operatives and freelance terrorists.

The change in alert status to the higher level in March marked the third time the administration had taken that action since the alert system was put in place. It is the first time the level actually was raised by the Department of Homeland Security, which took over the color-coded system from the Justice Department on March 1.

U.S. counterterrorism officials say the most specific information pointed to possible attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East. A recent statement from Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of al-Qaida, declared some solidarity with Iraqis, although he referred to Saddam's government as infidels.

In addition, it was feared that operatives working for Iraq's Mukhabarat, Saddam's intelligence service, would attempt bombings or other traditional terrorist-style attacks, officials said. Many are thought to work out of Iraqi embassies around the world under diplomatic cover.

Shortly before the war, the administration asked 60 countries to expel some 300 people it alleged were Iraqi intelligence operatives. Many countries, their governments opposed to the war, refused.

Alleged Iraqi operatives were arrested in Jordan and Yemen in connection with plots against American embassies there. And the Philippines expelled several Iraqis for alleged links to espionage and Islamic extremist groups.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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