US Authorities increase security, caution Americans to be watchful during hollidays
Monday, December 20th 1999, 12:00 am
News On 6
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Despite the arrest of a man trying to smuggle explosive materials into Washington state aboard a ferry from
Canada, U.S. authorities know of no specific terror threats against domestic targets, President Clinton's national security adviser
But the arrest, and suspicions that the man may be linked to terrorist groups, prompted officials to heighten security and to caution Americans to watch out during the holiday season for signs of terrorist activities.
And the U.S. Customs Service said it is putting on duty 300 extra inspectors at high-priority entry points.
Meanwhile, U.S. Border Patrol officers said they arrested an Algerian national with a falsified Canadian passport at a border
station in Beecher's Falls, Vt., on Monday.
Arrested with him was a woman of unknown nationality, said Mark Henry, assistant chief of the Border Patrol sector covering Vermont.
Henry said he had not received a report from the agent following the case most closely. But he added that he knew of no link between the Washington state incident and the attempted entry in Vermont.
"I don't know why they were here. It could be as simple as she's smuggling him into the United States," he said.
Sandy Berger, the president's national security adviser, said U.S. authorities are investigating what plans Ahmed Ressam may have had for the nitroglycerin and other potential bomb-making materials in his car when he was arrested in Port Angeles, Wash., after taking a ferry last week from Victoria, British Columbia.
Speaking to reporters, Berger urged Americans to be vigilant as they plan New Year's activities but also said officials know of no specific threats against targets in the United States.
At the State Department, spokesman James Foley said it was too early to know if Ressam is a member of a terror group.
"Obviously, they're looking into his motivation, his intentions, whether he had accomplices and whether he was part of a wider network and is affiliated with international terrorist
groups," Foley said.
Foley noted that the State Department recently cautioned Americans abroad to be especially careful.
"We've indicated that we have information that terrorists are undertaking planning for attacks during the New Year period" overseas, Foley said. "It is obviously particularly important now for there to be maximum vigilance."
At the White House, presidential press secretary Joe Lockhart said Clinton had been briefed on counterterrorism efforts in the
pre-New Year's period, including Ressam's capture.
"We have ongoing efforts that look at both international terrorism, protecting against domestic terrorism," Lockhart said.
"That work is something that the president has closely involved himself in and has done a lot of work on."
At a ceremony in Washington honoring the four Customs agents who apprehended Ressam last week, Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly said he is putting an extra 300 inspectors on duty at various points of entry, with particular attention to "remote ports."
Kelly did not say where the additional inspectors would be or how long the extra force would be on station. He said 300 would be added through overtime or by shifting people to high priority stations.
The additional inspectors will allow Customs to question more people entering the United States at airports, seaports and road crossings, Kelly said.
"We are applying additional resources to do additional contacts with the public coming through," Kelly said. "It would mean more
questioning, looking for perhaps questionable or suspicious activity, engaging in more conversation. That's basically how
Customs inspectors work."
Some 460 million people come into the United States each year though 301 points of entry.
"The message is that U.S. Customs Service ... is ready and prepared," Kelly said.
In Maine, U.S. Border Patrol agents have been called back to work from leave, and others are working overtime as the agency increased staffing levels in response to Friday's arrest across the country in Washington.
"There's no increase in border activity, but we are taking the necessary precautions," assistant Chief Matt Zetts said. Border Patrol agents monitor 27,000 square miles between Maine's two border checkpoints.
Carol Jenifer, district director for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Detroit, said more "secondary inspections" will be performed if there are indications that a
driver may not be qualified to enter the United States. A secondary inspection is done by having a driver pull off to the side of the road.
"We're just not taking any chances," she said.