FBI pulls Las Vegas warnings as Jewish groups urge vigilance


WASHINGTON, AFP

U.S. authorities Saturday retracted a previous warning of a possible Independence Day attack on the gambling center of Las Vegas as Jewish groups urged their members to be alert for possible attacks with fuel tankers.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation — in a statement dated Friday — said it had investigated allegations by Lebanese-American Michael Hamdan, a resident of Las Vegas, who reported overhearing a conversation in Arabic on his cell phone plotting to attack the Nevada city on July 4, the anniversary of U.S. independence.

“Results of the investigation to date do not substantiate these allegations and the FBI has determined that this information is not credible,” FBI agent Ellen Knowlton said in the statement.

The report tapped into a deeply-held fear in the United States: more than half the U.S. public believe that a terrorist attack could occur on July 4th, according to a Time magazine/CNN poll released Friday. Of 57 percent of people surveyed who believed an attack was a definite possibility, 13 percent said they thought an attack was very likely compared with 44 percent who said it would be somewhat likely, according to the poll.

A majority of Americans polled this week believe al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, is still alive — while public opinion on the success of the U.S. military campaign in response to those attacks is eroding.

Seventy-eight percent of the 1,003 Americans surveyed in the June 19-20 Time magazine/CNN television poll said that bin Laden is alive. An advance copy of the poll’s results, due to appear in Monday’s issue of Time, was released by the magazine on Saturday.

Some 23 percent of those polled said the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan had been a success, down from 48 percent in January.

And opinions were divided on whether the mission could be declared successful if bin Laden is not captured. Forty-seven percent said it could be considered a success, while 44 percent said it could not.

Meanwhile, authorities and Jewish groups remained on guard for a possible attack using fuel tanker trucks.

Agents have “received uncorroborated information that terrorists may be interested in using fuel tanker trucks for attacks against U.S. interests in the United States or overseas, notably against Jewish schools and synagogues,” FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said Friday.

The militant al-Qaida group — which has declared war on Jews and on the United States — has been blamed for similar attacks against U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia in 1996 and a synagogue in Tunisia in April.

Emphasizing that most of the information was uncorroborated or unconfirmed, another spokesman, Bill Carter, said the warning had nevertheless been passed on to law enforcement agencies “out of an abundance of caution.”