FBI Says Terror Threat Against U.S. Banks Comes From Al-Qaida

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States issued a threat alert Friday to banks and law enforcement agencies in a dozen of northeast states, saying the government had received unconfirmed information on possible terror attacks by al-Qaida operatives.

"The United States government has received unsubstantiated information that unspecified terrorists are considering physical attacks against U.S. financial institutions in the northeast, particularly banks, as part of their campaign against U.S. financial interests," the FBI said in a statement.

U.S. officials said the information came from a variety of intelligence sources, including al-Qaida detainees captured as part of the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

At least one report said the information came in part from Abu Zubaydah, the highest-ranking al-Qaida leader in U.S. custody.

Zubaydah was said to be a key recruiter and operational plannerin the inner cycle of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. He was captured by Pakistan authorities in late March and handed over to U.S. custody.

The alert covers the states of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia.

The decision to disseminate the threat information followed a meeting of officials with the FBI, the Justice Department, the Office of Homeland Security, and the Treasury Department.

In a speech in Pittsburgh, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the warning did not request banks to close or people to stay away from banks, but rather ask people to remain vigilant by reporting any threats or suspicious activity to their local FBI office.

He also said the threat status of the nation would remain at "yellow," the third of the five levels in a new color-based warningsystem.

Ashcroft said it was important for the government to alert citizens of the threat. "We believe that this information sharingdisrupts and prevents terrorist activity."

The warning came as authorities in Washington stepped up security ahead of three days of meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which run through Sunday.

Police and law enforcement agencies said they were guarding against possible violence in anticipated protests by various groups of activists. They said they were also preparing to preventany terror attack against the protesters.

The alert came four days after a bomb threat shut down several banks in Washington. The threat later proved to be a prank by a 13-year-old Dutch boy, who called authorities saying that there was aplot to bomb a national bank in the city at noon Monday.

The boy has not been charged with any crime.

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