Is the 4th of July earmarked on Bin Laden calendar?

Published May 14th, 2002 - 02:00 GMT

Islamic terrorists are planning an attack against a U.S. nuclear power plant to coincide with the July 4 celebrations, U.S. intelligence sources were quoted as saying by The Washington Times. U.S. officials are taking the threat seriously, though they maintain it is not necessarily wholly reliable, the newspaper added. 


The administration has already taken steps to tighten security at U.S. nuclear power facilities, a White House spokesman said. "As the president said earlier this year, we know that al Qaeda has been gathering information and looking at nuclear facilities and other critical infrastructure as potential targets," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the Office of Homeland Security. "Because of that, we have strengthened security at those facilities." 


The claims of a plot were gathered recently by U.S. intelligence agencies. It coincides with other reports indicating that two al Qaeda members are planning an attack inside the United States using radioactive material in a conventional bomb. 


According to the newspaper, the nuclear plant threat indicated that an unidentified Islamic group is planning to attack the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear facility in Pennsylvania, or another nuclear facility in the state or elsewhere in the Northeast. 


The intelligence on the nuclear plant targeting followed earlier intelligence obtained from Abu Zubaydah, 31, who was wounded in a shootout with Pakistani police on March 28. He is considered a key lieutenant of Osama bin Laden. 


Abu Zubaydah told his U.S. investigators that two of al Qaeda members were operating in a secret cell within the United States and were planning an attack. He also disclosed that an American and an African national were planning to construct a radiological bomb for the attack. 


Some doubt, however, has been cast on the Abu Zubaydah claims. "He seems to be supplying some good information to enhance his credibility," said one official familiar with debriefing reports on the captured terrorist. "On the other hand, it could be part of a larger deception effort." 


American officials told The Washington Post the attack on the nuclear plant was initially scheduled for May 1, but later intelligence reports indicated that the mission was set to be carried out July 4. "TMI was one of the places named in the threat warnings," one official said. "The problem is the date keeps changing." 


U.S. sources disclosed that there have been at least two instances in the past several weeks where Middle Eastern nationals were spotted "casing" U.S. nuclear facilities. In one, an Arab couple with a child was seen photographing a building housing regulators of nuclear power plants. A second instance involved an outdoor gathering of Arabs near a nuclear power facility. 


There are 66 nuclear power facilities in the United States, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The TMI facility was the site of a serious nuclear accident in 1979. A malfunction in a water system used for steam generators caused a meltdown within a reactor core, setting off the release of radioactive gas. ( 

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