The FBI has issued an extraordinary terrorist alert asking police forces and the public to be on the lookout for a Yemeni man and several associates who might be plotting an imminent terrorist attack as early as today.
The agency scrambled to put out the warning after information emerged that one or more people were involved. Officials said the intelligence, while deemed credible, was not specific about possible targets.
The Winter Olympics site in Salt Lake City, already protected by €200m defences, has always been regarded as a likely terrorist target.
One possible attacker was identified as Fawaz Yahya al-Rabeei, a Yemeni national born in Saudia Arabia in 1979. The warning also listed about a dozen associates of al-Rabeei.
The bureau planned to put photos and information on a website to help Americans identify the possible perpetrators.
‘‘Recent information indicates a planned attack may occurred in the United States or against US interests on or around February 12, 2002. One or more operatives may be involved in the attack,’’ the alert to 18,000 law enforcement agencies said.
The alert asked police ‘‘to stop and detain’’ any of the named individuals in alert and that all ‘‘should be considered extremely dangerous.’’
Law enforcement officials said the alert was prompted by recent information from interviews of detainees in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where several al Qaida operatives are being held.
Law enforcement officials said there was no evidence that al-Rabeei had entered the United States. The alert did not say whether the attack was planned or involved Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
Before Monday, FBI and Homeland Security officials had issued three general alerts urging all Americans to be cautious and on the lookout for possible terrorist activities.
The last was issued on December 3 and was supposed to last through the holidays. It has since been extended through the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and is supposed to expire around March 11.
In addition, the FBI has issued numerous narrower alerts to specific industries when uncorroborated information about threats to their facilities emerges. In the last month, such alerts went to nuclear power plant operators and to operators of Internet sites cautioning about possible threats.
On some occasions, local law enforcement officials have complained they learned from news media about the warnings before they saw the alerts over the FBI communications system.
The warning, issued in the US at around 9pm last night (2am Irish time) was carefully organised to ensure that police, news media and the public learned about them at the same time, officials said.