WASHINGTON - Counterterrorism officials are tracking potential threats to the United States and Europe from al-Qaeda and affiliated groups during the holiday season, authorities said.
They said that while they had not seen evidence yet of specific plots aimed at the United States, there was intelligence on attacks being planned against Europe during the holiday season.
The FBI and Homeland Security Department have alerted state and local law enforcement to regularly change security measures to confuse any terrorist plans.
The warning was sent in a bulletin Wednesday obtained by the Associated Press. It does not cite any specific plots or intelligence.
On Saturday, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a pedestrian street in Stockholm, Sweden, killing himself and injuring two people.
Iraqi officials said this week that insurgents they captured revealed that the suicide bombing in Sweden was part of several attacks being planned by al-Qaeda against the West during the Christmas season.
Even before the revelations from the captured Iraqi insurgents, U.S. counterterrorism officials were tracking threat streams from al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and Yemen.
U.S. officials said attacks at home cannot be ruled out despite the lack of information on specific threats. Attempted attacks against the United States in the last 12 months - particularly the one by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian charged in a failed bid to ignite explosives in his underwear to take down an airplane last Christmas - have kept them on high alert.
On Thursday, Abdulmutallab was arraigned on two more charges, including one of conspiracy, in Detroit.
"We are concerned these terrorists may seek to exploit the likely significant psychological impact of an attack targeting mass gatherings in large metropolitan areas during the 2010 holiday season, which has symbolic importance to many in the United States," the FBI and Homeland Security bulletin said.
The Homeland Security Department would not comment on specific intelligence. The U.S. government has been warning Americans since October to be vigilant when they travel to and within Europe.
Earlier this month a Portland man was caught in an FBI sting operation as he allegedly planned to set off a bomb at a crowded Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. And in October, al-Qaeda's Yemeni offshoot - which also claimed responsibility for last Christmas' airliner attack - tried to blow up two cargo planes over the United States.
That plot was foiled after officials received a tip from Saudi intelligence.
Counterterrorism officials said they could not discount potential threats from other terror groups, such as al-Qaeda offshoots in Iraq, Pakistan, and Somalia.
"Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups continue to seek innovative ways to conduct attacks and circumvent security procedures, and we remain concerned that the holiday season provides attractive opportunities for terrorists to target the homeland," the intelligence bulletin said.
Lawyers for Abu Zubaydah, a terrorism suspect now held at Guantanamo, asked Polish authorities Thursday to open an investigation into allegations that U.S. agents abused him at
a now-shuttered secret CIA prison in Poland.
They said they wanted to shed light on the CIA's secret renditions and alleged abuse, a defunct system that remains shrouded in secrecy. Options for bringing such cases to U.S. courts have been closed off in recent years, and Zubaydah's lawyers see Poland as perhaps the only country willing to investigate the matter.
"Since 9/11, the United States has become a dark and angry place, and if the rule of law is going to be vindicated, it has to start here," Joseph Margulies, an American lawyer for Zubaydah, said in Warsaw. He said that secret sites operated in many countries but that only Poland had an inquiry that seems intent on finding the truth.
The United States has not filed any charges against Zubaydah.
- Associated Press