Terrorism alert level lowered from orange to yellow

Friday, May 30th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration on Friday dropped the federal terrorism alert level one step -- to yellow -- saying intelligence pointing to an imminent attack has decreased.

The higher orange alert lasted 10 days. No domestic terrorist strikes were attempted during that period.

"The intelligence community has concluded the number of indicators and warnings that led to raising the threat level have decreased, and the heightened vulnerability associated with the Memorial Day holiday has passed," said Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

The new level, yellow, indicates an elevated risk of terrorist attack, while the old level, orange, means a high risk.

Yellow is the middle level on a five-color scale. The lowest two levels, green and blue, and the highest, red, have not been used since the system was adopted in March 2002.

The alert level was raised on May 20 after terrorists believed linked to al-Qaida struck in Saudi Arabia and Morocco. Seventy-five people were killed, including eight Americans.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said it was feared the incidents could mark the beginning of a wave of worldwide attacks that could include U.S. targets.

With the alert, government authorities and businesses stepped up security, particularly at large gatherings over the Memorial Day weekend. Lowering the alert level would allow authorities to scale back some security measures, a move favored by many local governments struggling with budget shortfalls.

The terror alert has been at orange four times since the system was put in place. No domestic attacks have occurred during any of the alerts, which Homeland Security officials believe serve to deter would-be terrorists from striking.

Previous alerts lasted roughly a month.

U.S. officials suspect al-Qaida's top leaders coordinated the Morocco and Saudi Arabia attacks to demonstrate al-Qaida still is viable.

Many of those leaders are believed to be in Iran, although Osama bin Laden is thought to be in the remote border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their activities, along with information gleaned from prisoner interrogations and intercepted communications, played a key role in raising the alert, U.S. counterterrorism officials said.