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Ashcroft: New terror attack possible

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States should be on heightened alert in the coming days because of possible new terrorist action, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday afternoon.

In a quickly called news conference, Ashcroft said intelligence sources had found "credible" information the nation could be the focus for some sort of terrorist attack within the week. He called on law enforcement agencies, citizens and U.S. interests abroad to be on "highest alert."

As if to underscore his warning, an American Airlines Boeing 757 en route from New York to Dallas, Texas, Monday evening was diverted to Washington's Dulles International Airport after a threatening note was found on the plane, CNN learned.

Flight 785 had taken off carrying 141 passengers and a crew of eight when the note was found, a source told CNN. The FAA ordered the flight to Dulles, where the passengers exited via emergency chutes as officials closed off the western side of the airport.

Ashcroft took Monday's information seriously enough to cancel a planned trip Monday night to Toronto, Canada, where he was scheduled to speak Tuesday to a meeting of the International Association of Police Chiefs.

The information authorities received was not specific but was sufficient to share with the public, Ashcroft said.

"I trust the American people to be able to understand ... that they can make good judgments and understand this kind of information," he said.

The information is good, said FBI Director Robert Mueller, who also attended the conference.

Officials do not know what might be attacked, or how, said Mueller, calling on police and citizens to be "extremely vigilant." He declined to name the source of the information.

Various federal agencies, including the EPA, FAA, FBI and Department of Transportation, have been alerted, Mueller said.

The FBI also issued a terrorist advisory to 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, he said.

"On every occasion when the government has received credible information, we have chosen to warn our colleagues in the law-enforcement community," Mueller said.

"We are doing so today because we have such information, even though it is not specific as to intended target or as to intended method."

On October 11 -- one month after terrorist attacks -- the FBI warned another terrorist attack might come "over the next several days." The next several days passed uneventfully.

Tom Ridge, director of Homeland Security, also has discussed the heightened security alert with the nation's governors, asking them "to take appropriate precautions in their respective states," Ashcroft said.

President Bush was alerted about the threat early Monday, Ashcroft said.

Latest developments

• Calling the Taliban "an illegitimate, unelected group of terrorists," U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Monday accused the organization of using civilians as human shields by placing military equipment in residential areas. Defending the U.S.-led military campaign against terrorist targets in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld blamed the Taliban for "every single casualty in this war." The air campaign, now in its fourth week, is now concentrating on Taliban military hardware and forces fighting against the opposition Northern Alliance, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

• U.S. planes targeted Taliban forces near the Tajikistan-Afghan border for the first time in support of troops of the Northern Alliance, according to the opposition group's vice defense minister. (Full story)

• U.S. forces may soon establish a forward military base in Afghanistan that would support 200 to 300 commandos, USA Today reported Monday. Asked about the report at a Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld said, "We consider lots of things, and we don't discuss them."

• U.S. officials say that Pakistan's intelligence service -- a key U.S. ally in the war against terrorism -- has had a longstanding relationship with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, The New York Times reported Monday.

• The Taliban said Monday that America's "wicked designs" against Afghanistan continue, but that the only significant achievement in the U.S.-led campaign has been genocidal attacks against civilians in cities throughout the country. The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan indicated some Americans may have been detained in Afghanistan, but he didn't give any details.

• New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani called Monday for "an absolute revolutionary new era in the sharing of information" between federal, state and local authorities. Giuliani spoke at a terrorism and homeland defense hearing in New York. (Full story)

• Beginning Monday, the nearly 11,000 firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center collapse on September 11 will be checked for respiratory problems. The chief pulmonologist for the New York Fire Department said there has been an increase in the number of cases he calls the "World Trade Center cough." (Full story)

• The Iranian government has agreed to reverse an earlier decision and allow Afghan refugees to settle in camps inside Iran should the need arise, an influential member of Iran's parliament said Monday. Meanwhile, the United Nations announced Ruud Lubbers, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, will urge Pakistan to open its borders to Afghan refugees and refrain from deporting those who already have arrived.

• President Bush is willing to impose his version of airport security by executive order if Congress does not produce a bill that allows the federal government to contract with private companies to provide airport and baggage security, a key House GOP ally of the Bush White House told CNN Sunday. (Full story)

• A special commission of Iran's reformist parliament said Monday the international campaign against terrorism demands that Iran re-establish diplomatic relations with the United States. The two countries have not had diplomatic contact for 22 years. (Full story)

• Mufti Mohammed Masoom Afghani, the head Islamic cleric of the Ulema Council for all Afghanistan, called on all Muslims throughout the world to defend Afghanistan, saying it has been invaded by an infidel country. In the interview with CNN's Kamal Hyder, Afghani, quoting the Koran, said it is mandatory for all Muslims to assist their brethren when attacked.

• Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, arrived in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday for talks with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, who is under increasing domestic pressure for his support of a U.S.-led military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan, U.S. embassy officials told CNN. (Full story)

• Lawmakers in the Upper House of Japan's parliament have passed controversial legislation allowing the country's armed forces to take part in limited operations assisting the U.S.-led war on terror. (Full story)

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