The Justice Department released a list of seven people wanted for questioning Wednesday after authorities received a stream of credible intelligence reports pointing to a terror attack of Sept. 11 proportions in the United States this summer.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft asked American citizens to give any information they can, and foreign governments have been recruited.
Ashcroft said the intelligence, coupled with recent public statements attributed to al Qaeda, "suggest that it is almost ready to attack the United States."
The new terror warning comes just six months before the U.S. fall presidential election.
Some officials believe al Qaeda's goal is not to aid one candidate over another so much as to show it can influence voters, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart, just as it did in Spain earlier this year when bombs demolished commuter trains and toppled a prime minister who had backed the U.S.-led Iraq war.
The intelligence does not contain specifics such as timing, method or place of an attack. But officials say it is highly credible and backed with greater corroboration than usual, including information that operatives may already be in the United States.
Those on the list of people the FBI wants to talk to include a man who grew up on a goat ranch in California before converting to Islam; a Tunisian who obtained Canadian citizenship; a Tanzanian who goes by the names "Foopie," "Fupi" and "Ahmed the Tanzanian;" a Pakistani woman who received a biology degree in Boston; and a native of the Comoros Republic in the Indian Ocean who is believed to be al Qaeda's point-man in eastern Africa.
Even Panama, a country known more for its canal than terrorism, has been included in the search. Officials said Wednesday they are trying to track down a man identified as Adnan Gulshair El Shukrijumah, of Saudi Arabia.
Panamanian Security Council Chief Ramiro Jarvis said El Shukrijumah arrived in Panama legally from the United States in April 2001 — five months before the Sept. 11 terror attacks — and stayed in Panama for 10 days. He also visited Trinidad and Tobago for six days the next month.
"We don't know exactly what he did during his stay and it is important to find out," Jarvis said.
Migration records show El Shukrijumah returned to the United States, Interior Department spokesman David Salayandia said. The last place he was seen, however, was in Panama.
Two of the suspects were from Canada, according to Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan. One of the men, Abderraouf Jdey, a Tunisian who obtained Canadian citizenship in 1995, was among five people who left suicide messages on videotapes recovered in Afghanistan at the home of Mohammed Atef. Atef, reportedly Osama bin Laden's military chief, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2001.
Pakistani security officials are also looking for information on Aafia Siddiqui, 32, a Pakistani woman who received a biology degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and wrote a doctoral thesis on neurological sciences at Brandeis University, outside Boston, in 2001.
Authorities say she returned to Pakistan shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks with her husband and three children. Her whereabouts have been a mystery since March 2003, when the FBI issued a global alert for her arrest for possible links to al Qaeda. The FBI also wants to talk to her husband.
Another suspect is Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, under indictment in the United States for the 1998 al Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Tanzanian also goes by the names "Foopie," "Fupi" and "Ahmed the Tanzanian." He is under
A 25-year-old U.S. citizen, Adam Yahiye Gadahn, is also a suspect. He goes by the names Adam Pearlman and Abu Suhayb Al-Amriki. FBI Director Robert Mueller says he attended al Qaeda training camps and has served as an al Qaeda translator.
Gadahn says on an Islamic Internet site that he grew up on a goat ranch in Riverside County, Calif., and converted to Islam in his later teenage years after moving to Garden Grove, Calif.
While the government has worried for years that al Qaeda may try to get its hands on such weapons, CBS News has learned that it is a recent bomb plot in Saudi Arabia that has them truly worried. The plot illuminated a new tactic to attack large fortified public-like buildings. Terrorists planned to use two truck bombs — one to blow up outside defenses, and a second to drive through the opening — and take down the building.
FBI director Robert Mueller said that "extraordinary precautions" already were being taken to protect the sites of the two political conventions — the Democratic convention in Boston in late July and the Republican convention in New York in late August — as well as next month's Group of Eight economic summit on Sea Island in Georgia.
However, there are no immediate plans to increase the U.S. terror alert level.
Some law enforcement and firefighter union representatives, supporters of Democrat John Kerry for president, suggested that the timing of the threat report was suspicious because of polls showing a sagging approval rating for President Bush. International Association of Firefighters President Harold Schaitberger told reporters in a conference call that the intelligence has been in the government's hands for weeks.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan, however, denied that there is a political aspect to the threat report.
"The president believes it's very important to share information appropriately," McClellan said. "We do that in a number of ways when it comes to looking at the threats we face here in the homeland."