U.S. believes it disrupted attack planning


The FBI is warning that al-Qaida could attempt to commandeer helicopters, limousines and other rental vehicles to launch attacks inside the United States.

Helicopters are more maneuverable than fixed-wing airplanes, especially in urban areas such as New York, and the FBI said they also have a “non threatening appearance” that might allow them to fly undetected and be crashed into buildings.

“Al-Qaida has apparently considered the use of helicopters as an alternative to recruiting operatives for fixed-wing aircraft,” said the bulletin, sent Friday night to police and other government officials and obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

The second bulletin, also sent Friday night, said that terrorists could use a variety of rental vehicles to conceal powerful bombs, including limousines that have a larger storage capacity than rental cars.

In addition, the FBI said, limousines might be able to gain access to locations in a building — such as a parking garage — that would be denied to other vehicles because “they often convey an impression of authority or prestige.”

Both bulletins urge extra vigilance by people who operate car and truck rental businesses and those who handle airport security. The FBI repeated the government’s concern that al-Qaida intends to attack the United States in the next few months, prior to the Nov. 2 election.

Still, White House officials are optimistic that the recent arrests of suspected terrorists and the seizure of detailed surveillance of financial buildings has undermined plans to attack the United States.

And they suggested, in television talk shows Sunday, some of the potential plots uncovered in the past week may have been part of a broader effort to strike the country before the November election.

“I certainly think that by our actions now that we have disrupted it,” Frances Fragos Townsend, President George W. Bush’s homeland security adviser, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The question is, have we disrupted all of it or a part of it? And we’re working through an investigation to uncover that.”

In cooperation with U.S. intelligence agencies, authorities in Pakistan and Britain have detained suspected al-Qaida operatives, while computer files uncovered in Pakistan contained surveillance information of five prominent financial sites in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J. The administration issued a terror alert based on that information.

Besides the financial sites, counterterrorism officials have said other places have been mentioned as possible targets. Asked whether they included the Capitol building and members of Congress, Townsend replied: “Yes, in the past and as part of this continuing threat stream.”

Included in information obtained on three laptop computers and 51 discs seized in a July 24 raid in Pakistan were details of how al-Qaida operatives thought of using speed boats and divers to carry out attacks in New York harbor before the November election, Time magazine reported, quoted an unidentified U.S. law enforcement official.