Disaster teams ready to respond to any strike by al-Qaida

Friday, December 26, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Disaster teams are ready to respond to any strike by the al-Qaida terrorist network and special equipment is monitoring the air for biological agents in some 30 cities, the Bush administration said Thursday.

Four days after the nation went to a high Code Orange status and turned up its vigilance against terrorism, the threat had not diminished. "Credible reporting suggests al-Qaida continues to desire to attack American interests," said Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

"People have their antennas up," he said.

The increased threat level triggered activation of the disaster teams, composed of government experts from different agencies.

The teams would:

Provide expert advice and support to the on-scene commander if there's a threat, or an incident involving weapons of mass destruction.

Respond to any release of radiation with advice and air monitoring equipment.

Provide medical personnel to assist state and local medical authorities.

The agency previously modified air pollution monitoring equipment in 30 cities to pick up any biological agents and provide test results in 12-to-24 hours.

With the latest threat, officials took several dozen units from the government's inventory and installed them in some of the same cities. The cities were not identified for security reasons.

U.S. officials were conferring with other governments in an effort to prevent suspected terrorists from boarding airplanes heading to the United States.

"We're concerned about flights originating from international countries including Mexico and others," said a national security official, insisting on anonymity.

U.S. officials were closely monitoring the situation in France, where six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles were canceled Wednesday and Thursday.

French investigators questioned seven men pointed out by U.S. intelligence but found no evidence they planned to use a Los Angeles-bound jet to launch terror attacks against the United States, French authorities said Thursday.

U.S. intelligence officials told their French counterparts that members of al-Qaida would try to board the planes over Christmas, said a French judicial official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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