The warning named a 22-year-old Yemeni man who was born in Saudi Arabia, Fawaz Yahya al-Rabeei, as the ringleader in a possible plot and listed 16 of his alleged associates.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said the men are “individuals who may be associated with Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida network,” and that citizens and law enforcement agents should “be on the highest alert.”
The FBI has publicized three previous warnings since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but this alert included more specific information and named potential assailants.
The FBI alert said the unusually information came “as a result of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and ongoing interviews of detainees in Guantanamo Bay,” and that all 17 named men “should be considered extremely dangerous.”
An initial search through immigration documentation indicates that al-Rabeei, who uses multiple aliases, has never been in the United States, nor was he connected with a bombing in Yemen against the USS Cole in 2000 that killed 17 sailors.
Officials said they decided to disseminate the information as quickly as possible due to its specific nature and because of concerns for security at the Winter Olympics in Utah.
More than 18,000 U.S. and international law enforcement agencies received the alert. It instructs security to “stop and detain” any of the 17 people. The alert, with pictures of the suspects, is also posted on the FBI web site.
“It’s exactly this type of action that helps disrupt or prevent terrorist attacks, which is why the FBI does it, and properly so,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said today.
Fleischer said President Bush has not altered his schedule as a result of the warning and Vice President Cheney is working at the White House. During previous security alerts, the vice president has been moved to undisclosed locations.
In Yemen, steps are being taken to secure entities associated with the United States, including the embassy, an English language school and several businesses.
The official Yemen news agency, Saba, quoted a Yemen official as saying “all security precautions” are being taken to prevent “any acts that disturb the country’s security and stability or hit the interests of brother nations, including the United States.”