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Official: Terrorists preparing to strike

WASHINGTON -- US officials have obtained new intelligence deemed highly credible indicating Al Qaeda or other terrorists are in the United States and preparing to launch a major attack this summer, The Associated Press has learned.

The intelligence does not include a time, place, or method of attack but is among the most disturbing received by the government since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to a senior federal counterterrorism official who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity yesterday.

Of most concern, the official said, is that terrorists may possess and use a chemical, biological, or radiological weapon that could cause much more damage and casualties than a conventional bomb.

"There is clearly a steady drumbeat of information that they are going to attack and hit us hard," said the official, who described the intelligence as highly credible.

The official declined to provide any specifics about the sources of the information but said there was an unusually high level of corroboration.

Despite that, the official said there was no immediate plan to raise the nation's terrorism threat level from yellow, or elevated, to orange, or high. The threat level has been at yellow -- midpoint on the five-color scale -- since January.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI director Robert Mueller plan a news conference today to outline an intensive effort by law enforcement, intelligence, and homeland security officials to detect and disrupt any potential plots. And the FBI plans to dispatch a bulletin to some 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies warning of the threat.

Beginning with Saturday's dedication of the new World War II Memorial in Washington, the summer presents a number of high-profile targets in the United States. They include the G-8 summit in Georgia next month that will attract top officials from some of America's closest allies, the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July, and the Republican National Convention in August in New York.

The FBI and Homeland Security Department also are concerned about so-called soft targets such as shopping malls anywhere in the United States that offer a far less protected environment than a political convention hall.

US authorities repeatedly have said Al Qaeda is determined to mount an attack on US soil, in part to announce to the world that it remains capable of doing so despite the money and effort that has gone into homeland security in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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