June 24, 2003
Posted at: 9:30 a.m. CDT
HOUSTON — Federal homeland security officials have informed Texas law enforcement agencies of intelligence reportedly gathered from suspected al Qaeda operatives discussing potential terrorism in the state next month.
Homeland security officials are reviewing the information eavesdropped earlier this month from two suspected al Qaeda operatives discussing potential terrorism in Texas timed for the July Fourth weekend, unnamed officials in Washington told the Houston Chronicle on Monday.
Although the information did not specify a target, an exact time or a type of terrorist attack, officials were concerned about oil or gas facilities and pipelines because al Qaeda terrorists in the past have discussed attacking the energy sector as a way of damaging America's economy.
"We are currently in the process of assessing the credibility of the report concerning Texas," an official with the Department of Homeland Security told the newspaper in today's online edition. "We have informed the authorities in Texas of the information we received and told them we were trying to determine its credibility."
The state's refineries, many located in Southeast Texas, account for 25 percent of U.S. capacity. The nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve is kept in a series of salt caverns along the Gulf Coast at the Louisiana-Texas border. Officials have said Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, remains a possible target because of its population, oil refining capacity and the Port of Houston.
The Homeland Security Department in recent weeks announced about $30 million in grants to upgrade security at port facilities where oil is shipped in Houston and Beaumont.
Published reports have outlined references to Internet chat room conversations, with a possible al Qaeda operative known as "Sakr" saying an attack had been planned for a long time and that terrorists inside the United States were only waiting for approval from a man dubbed "the Sheik" before striking in early July.
Intelligence analysts had said Sakr had sent a message predicting "good news" coming from Morocco shortly before a successful terrorist strike in that country.
"We are aware of this threat, but beyond that we can't comment," Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange said. "We are going to be checking out different things to see what we can find, but that is all that I can say."
The FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center in October issued two detailed warnings to private oil companies in the Houston area that "recent statements, apparently by al Qaeda leaders" indicated that terrorists were targeting the U.S. economic backbone, including oil and gas industry facilities. Those warnings followed an al Qaeda attack on an oil tanker in Yemen last fall.
The FBI, as part of the alert in October, suggested that private companies increase their security and make security more visible.