US 'vigilant' for holiday terror attack
Washington - US President Barack Obama sent out his top White House anti-terror advisor on Wednesday to assure Americans that everything possible was being done to keep them safe from attack over Christmas.
"We remain vigilant to attempts by al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations to carry out cowardly attacks against innocent men, women and children," said White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan.
"As we enter the peak of another holiday season, the homeland security, law enforcement and intelligence communities are collectively focused on doing everything they can do to prevent terrorists from disrupting the safety and security of Americans," Brennan said.
The Christmas and New Year holiday season, with its high volume of air travel and festive gatherings, is often seen as a moment of high vulnerability to attacks, and fears have been raised this year by terror warnings in Europe.
Last Christmas Day, a disaster was narrowly averted as a Nigerian man apparently acting on behalf of a Yemen-based al-Qaeda affiliate, tried to down a US airliner headed for Detroit with explosives in his underwear.
Brennan said that Obama called top US security officials to meet at the White House on Tuesday to review the latest threat reports, and to co-ordinate holiday season counter-terrorism plans.
"It is the goal of the counter-terrorism community to stay several steps ahead of our terrorist adversaries so that we can stop terrorists dead in their tracks before ... either small-scale or potentially devastating attacks," Brennan said.
However, he cautioned that his appearance before the cameras was meant to reassure Americans that everything that could be done, was being done - not to alarm them as they embarked on holiday travel.
The White House meanwhile released a list of counter-terrorism measures put in place by the administration to meet the latest generation of threats.
Notably, the US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had taken steps to close gaps in analysis and data collection that may have facilitated the thwarted attack on a Northwest Airlines plane last December 25.
The criteria used to create terrorist watch lists and "No-Fly" lists had also been revised while 500 advanced passenger screening devices had now been installed at 75 US airports, a face sheet showed.
Changes had also been made in screening cargo following a thwarted plot to put explosives hidden in printer toner cartridges on board cargo planes heading for the United States in October, the White House said.
In Washington, spot checks started on Tuesday on the Washington underground metro system, a week after the government disclosed the arrest of an Afghan man for allegedly threatening to bomb the network.
On Tuesday, CNN, quoting US intelligence officials said that Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was considering poisoning food served at US hotels and restaurants with deadly ricin and cyanide.
In Britain meanwhile, 12 men aged between 17 and 28 were arrested in an anti-terror sweep which came amid heightened tensions following Sweden's first-ever suicide bombing last week.
And last week, Interpol said it had received information from its office in Baghdad about possible al-Qaeda attacks on US and European targets.