US `vigilant` for holiday terror attack: Official

Homeland Security adviser John Brennan seeks to reassure travelling public.

Last Updated: Dec 23, 2010, 13:18 PM IST

Washington: US President Barack Obama sent out his top White House anti-terror advisor on Wednesday to assure Americans that everything possible was being done to keep them safe from attack over Christmas.

"We remain vigilant to attempts by al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations to carry out cowardly attacks against innocent men, women and children," said White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan.

"As we enter the peak of another holiday season, the homeland security, law enforcement and intelligence communities are collectively focused on doing everything they can do to prevent terrorists from disrupting the safety and security of Americans," Brennan said.

The Christmas and New Year holiday season, with its high volume of air travel and festive gatherings, is often seen as a moment of high vulnerability to attacks, and fears have been raised this year by terror warnings in Europe.

Last Christmas Day, a disaster was narrowly averted as a Nigerian man apparently acting on behalf of a Yemen-based al Qaeda affiliate, tried to down a US airliner headed for Detroit with explosives in his underwear.

Brennan said that Obama called top US security officials to meet at the White House on Tuesday to review the latest threat reports, and to coordinate holiday season counterterrorism plans.

"It is the goal of the counterterrorism community to stay several steps ahead of our terrorist adversaries so that we can stop terrorists dead in their tracks before ... either small-scale or potentially devastating attacks," Brennan said.

However, he cautioned that his appearance before the cameras was meant to reassure Americans that everything that could be done, was being done -- not to alarm them as they embarked on holiday travel.

The White House meanwhile released a list of counterterrorism measures put in place by the administration to meet the latest generation of threats.

Notably, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had taken steps to close gaps in analysis and data collection that may have facilitated the thwarted attack on a Northwest Airlines plane last December 25.

The criteria used to create terrorist watchlists and "No-Fly" lists had also been revised while 500 advanced passenger screening devices had now been installed at 75 US airports, a face sheet showed.

Changes had also been made in screening cargo following a thwarted plot to put explosives hidden in printer toner cartridges on board cargo planes heading for the United States in October, the White House said.

In Washington, spot checks started on Tuesday on the Washington underground Metro system, a week after the government disclosed the arrest of an Afghan man for allegedly threatening to bomb the network.

On Tuesday, CNN, quoting US intelligence officials said that Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was considering poisoning food served at US hotels and restaurants with deadly ricin and cyanide.

In Britain meanwhile, 12 men aged between 17 and 28 were arrested in an anti-terror sweep which came amid heightened tensions following Sweden`s first-ever suicide bombing last week.

And last week, Interpol said it had received information from its office in Baghdad about possible al Qaeda attacks on US and European targets.

Bureau Report

New Delhi: Congress Thursday sought to
downplay Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee`s remarks on alliance, saying she was only raising the issue of misuse of central forces in West Bengal, which she has the right to
do.

"What she might have said is about the misuse of the
central forces there, with which we are also equally
concerned....She has never said that she would quit on that
issue," party in-charge for West Bengal affairs K Keshava Rao
said.

The senior Congress leader stressed "she has never
said she would quit, she has never given any threat...there is
no question of rift between us (Congress and Trinamool
Congress).

Rao`s remarks came on Banerjee`s comments last night
on alliance with Congress that she had not said that her party
would contest the West Bengal Assembly elections on its own,
but it was for the ally to decide.
She had also said that she was ready to quit if she
cannot prove that the CPI(M) was misusing central security
forces brought for anti-Maoist operations in West Bengal.

"The CPI(M) is misusing central forces. I would have
nothing to say if the central forces were used against
Maoists. If I cannot prove that the central forces are being
misused by the CPI(M), I am ready to quit. Will the CPI(M)
government also do so" the Trinamool Congress chief had said.
Banerjee said that she had met Congress president
Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and apprised them
about the CPI(M)`s "terror tactics".

Agreeing with Mamata`s contention on the misuse of
central forces in the CPI-M ruled West Bengal, the Congress
leader said, "They are being misused. So everybody has the
right to talk about the misuse of central forces. She might
have spoken more emphatically about her concern."

PTI