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May 13, 2002

U.S. weighs July 4 threat
By Bill Gertz

     Islamic terrorists are planning an attack against a U.S. nuclear power plant to coincide with the July 4 celebrations, U.S. intelligence sources say.
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     U.S. officials are taking the threat seriously, though they say it is not necessarily wholly reliable.
     The claims of a plot were obtained by U.S. intelligence agencies last week. It coincides with other recent reports indicating that two al Qaeda terrorists are planning an attack inside the United States using radioactive material in a conventional bomb.
     The nuclear plant threat obtained last week indicated that an unidentified Islamic terrorist group is planning to attack the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear facility in Pennsylvania, or another nuclear facility in the state or elsewhere in the Northeast.
     The intelligence on the nuclear plant targeting followed earlier intelligence obtained from Abu Zubaydah, 31, who was wounded in a shootout with Pakistani police on March 28. He is considered a key lieutenant of Osama bin Laden and the organizer of terrorist training camps inside Afghanistan.
     The captured al Qaeda operations chief revealed that two of his terrorists were operating in a secret cell within the United States and were planning an attack.
     Zubaydah disclosed that an American and an African national were planning to construct a radiological bomb a conventional bomb fortified with radioactive material to increase its lethality for the attack, the officials said. The men were to obtain radioactive material covertly from a nuclear power plant or other nuclear waste or weapons facility, the officials added.
     Some doubt has been cast on the Zubaydah claims.
     "He seems to be supplying some good information to enhance his credibility," said one official familiar with debriefing reports on the captured terrorist. "On the other hand, it could be part of a larger deception effort."
     Zubaydah was captured in March during a raid on a terrorist safe haven in Pakistan.
     Intelligence officials believe that the African national described by Zubaydah is already in custody. He was among the hundreds of people arrested in the United States after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
     These officials say the attack on the nuclear plant was initially scheduled for May 1, but no attack was carried out on that date. Later intelligence reports indicated that the mission was set to be carried out July 4.
     "TMI was one of the places named in the threat warnings," one official said. "The problem is the date keeps changing."
     Officials say, however, that there have been at least two instances in the past several weeks where Middle Eastern nationals were spotted "casing" U.S. nuclear facilities. In one, an Arab couple with a child was seen photographing a building housing regulators of nuclear power plants. A second instance involved an outdoor gathering of Arabs near a nuclear power facility.
     The intelligence report led to a recent warning to FBI counterterrorism units around the country and to U.S. nuclear power facilities to be on the alert for possible strikes related to nuclear plants.
     Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters last month that U.S. military forces "control" Zubaydah and have provided him with medical care. Mr. Rumsfeld said April 3 that "we intend to get every single thing out of him to try to prevent terrorist acts in the future."
     Since September 11, the U.S. government has been engaged in major emergency planning for a large-scale terrorist attack inside the nation.
     "Everything we are planning for involves a future attack with weapons of mass destruction," one official said, referring to nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological weapons.
     There are 66 nuclear power facilities in the United States, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The TMI plant is located 10 miles southeast of Harrisburg, Pa. The Beaver Valley nuclear facility, about 17 miles west of McCandless, and the Peach Bottom nuclear facility, near Lancaster, also are located in Pennsylvania.
     The TMI facility was the site of a serious nuclear accident in 1979. A malfunction in a water system used for steam generators caused a meltdown within a reactor core, setting off the release of radioactive gas. However, despite a national frenzy of fear and speculation, there were no injuries due to radiation exposure.
     One U.S. official said the nuclear power plant threats were not related to the Zubaydah-identified terrorist cell believed to have planned a radiological bomb attack. "We get lots of threat information all the time," the official said of the July 4 threat.
     A common feature of al Qaeda terrorists working in some 60 nations is that most of them received military and terrorist training in camps in Afghanistan.
     Zubaydah also told U.S. intelligence officials last month that al Qaeda was planning attacks on banks in the northeastern United States and that supermarkets and shopping malls are targets. The location where Zubaydah is being held and questioned was not disclosed.

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