addition to the photographs and other
suspicious material, they carried "box
cutters and other equipment," the official
said. They appeared to be from the Middle
East and held Israeli
Wednesday, October 31, 2001
plants tighten security
FBI seeking 6
men seen in Midwest
MERZER, CURTIS MORGAN
AND LENNY SAVINO
brief version: ]
WASHINGTON -- As the nation
again stands on high alert, the FBI is searching
for six men stopped by police in the Midwest last
weekend but released -- even though they possessed
photos and descriptions of a nuclear power plant in
Florida and the Trans-Alaska pipeline, a senior law
enforcement official said Tuesday.
The Federal Aviation Administration imposed new
flight restrictions around nuclear plants
nationwide Tuesday, and the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission advised the nation's 103 nuclear plants
late Monday to fortify security.
The FAA temporarily banned all flights near New
York's Yankee Stadium, where President Bush
stood before a huge crowd at a World Series game
Tuesday night and -- wearing a New York City Fire
Department jacket -- tossed the ceremonial first
"It helps to keep the fabric of our country
strong," said spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Meanwhile, an administration official said the
urgent terrorism alert sounded Monday evening by
Attorney General John Ashcroft was based
largely on a message transmitted Sunday night by an
Osama bin Laden supporter in Canada to
The message referred to a major event that was
going to take place "down south" this week, the
official said. It apparently was a reference to
south of the U.S.-Canada border.
The Herald reported Monday that American
officials feared that members of bin Laden's
al Qaeda terrorist network had been unleashed to
launch attacks without specific permission from
On Tuesday, agency spokesmen said the FAA's
flight restrictions and the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission's security recommendations were based on
Ashcroft's general alert rather than a specific
threat. Ashcroft warned that Americans at home or
abroad could be struck by another terrorist attack
The incident in the Midwest apparently
contributed to the new terror warning. The six men
stopped by police were traveling in groups of three
in two white sedans, said the senior law
enforcement official, who requested anonymity.
In addition to the photographs and other
suspicious material, they carried "box cutters and
other equipment," the official said. They appeared
to be from the Middle East and held Israeli
They were let go after the Immigration and
Naturalization Service determined that the
passports were valid and that the men had entered
the United States legally, the official said.
The FBI declined to
comment. An INS spokesman called the report
unfounded. "We have absolutely no information at
this point in time to substantiate that story,"
said the agency's Russ Bergeron.
It could not be learned in what state the six
men were stopped or how they aroused suspicion. It
was not known whether their true identities matched
those on the passports, or why the FBI was not
releasing their names or descriptions.
Investigators think the men almost certainly
have changed cars by now and have fled to Canada or
Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller were
"furious" that the INS allowed the men to be
released without consulting the FBI, the official
Ashcroft and Mueller appeared Monday evening at
a hastily called news conference to announce that
the government had "credible" but vague information
that another wave of terrorist attacks could strike
Americans within a week.
Shortly after that announcement, Vice
President Dick Cheney moved once again to an
undisclosed secure location and remained there
There are three nuclear power facilities in
Florida: Florida Power & Light Co.'s Turkey
Point facility, south of Miami, and St. Lucie
facility, near Fort Pierce, and Florida Power
Corp.'s Crystal River plant, about 85 miles north
of St. Petersburg.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a new
threat advisory Monday night to all nuclear power
plants, other electrical plants, a dozen
decommissioned reactors and three nuclear
fuel-manufacturing facilities, said spokesman
The action was in response to the FBI's general
warning, he said, and the commission was "not aware
of any specific threats" against any power
The advisory suggested the plants fortify
perimeter security and, if necessary, call in help
from local or state law officers or the National
At least one Florida plant was doing that
At Crystal River, workers installed concrete
road barricades at strategic spots inside the
sprawling site, which includes one nuclear reactor
and four fossil-fuel plants. Citrus County
sheriff's deputies were summoned to supplement the
plant's full-time security force, said Florida
Power spokesman Mac Harris.
Florida Power & Light, which runs the two
other nuclear plants in Florida, would not discuss
security measures or threats in detail.
Spokeswoman Rachel Scott said FPL's
plants remained at the highest level of alert. "We
are in very close communication with all levels of
law enforcement, including the FBI, to ensure we
have the security measures in place to protect the
plants," she said.
Also Tuesday, the FAA restricted all flights
below 18,000 feet and within 10 miles of 86
"sensitive nuclear sites" until Tuesday, the agency
said. Exceptions can be made for law enforcement,
medical and firefighting flights.
The 800-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which
delivers 17 percent of the nation's domestic oil
production, runs from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic
Ocean to Valdez on the Pacific.
An employee at the Valdez security office for
Alayeska, the company that runs the pipeline, said
there has been no company-wide alert.
Still, the incident in the Midwest apparently
contributed to the many pieces of information that
triggered the FBI's general alert.
A senior administration official, who spoke on
condition of anonymity, said the agency's warning
was based on messages from known or suspected
operatives of al Qaeda in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,
Jakarta, Indonesia, Afghanistan and elsewhere
during the last week, coupled with a new message
Sunday that suggested an attack within the next
However, the official said the sudden flood of
messages could be "deliberate deception of the kind
we saw before Sept. 11," when bin Laden associates
sent a flurry of messages suggesting a forthcoming
attack on U.S. interests in Europe or the Middle
East. Those messages held no hint of the U.S.
hijackings to come.
Bin Laden is suspected of orchestrating the
attacks on the four jetliners, the World Trade
Center towers and the Pentagon that killed nearly
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge
defended the administration's decision to issue the
alert and said it was unavoidably imprecise.
He said it was a "convergence of credible
sources that occasioned the alert. More than the
usual, is all I can tell you."
Ridge urged Americans to find new reservoirs of
patience and to remain alert, but also to find a
way to proceed with life as normally as possible.
He noted that Bush was keeping his commitment to
attend the World Series game.
"America has to continue to be America," Ridge
"What terrorists try to do is instill such
uncertainty, such fear, such hesitation, that you
don't do things that you normally do. And all we're
saying with a general alert is to continue to live
your lives, continue to be America, but be aware,
be alert, be on guard."
Herald staff writer Alfonso Chardy
contributed to this report, as did Knight Ridder
reporters Sumana Chatterjee, Jackie Koszczuk and
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Mark Fazlollah in
Relevant items on this website:
Messages to Israel Warned of WTC Attack
mistaken for terrorists may be home
Five Israelis detained
for "puzzling behavior" after WTC