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A police officer stands guard in New York's Times Square as the ABC news ticker displays news of an al-Qaida terror threat, Friday, Sept. 9, 2011. Just days before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. counterterrorism officials are chasing a credible but unconfirmed al-Qaida threat to use a car bomb on bridges or tunnels in New York City or Washington. It is the first "active plot" timed to coincide with the somber commemoration of the terror group's 9/11 attacks a decade ago that killed nearly 3,000 people. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Officials chase unconfirmed al-Qaida bomb threat

By EILEEN SULLIVAN and KIMBERLY DOZIER

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. counterterrorism officials are chasing a credible but unconfirmed al-Qaida threat to set off a car bomb on bridges or tunnels in New York City or Washington. It was the first word of an “active plot” timed to coincide with the somber commemoration of the terror group’s 9/11 attacks a decade ago that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Counterterrorism officials were investigating the threat throughout the night and into Friday, as police in New York and Washington said they would increase their already stepped-up staffing levels in light of the recent intelligence.

Law enforcement officials were pursuing three people who may be traveling to the U.S. or who have recently entered the country, based on the detailed information received by the U.S. intelligence community late Wednesday, officials said. The intelligence suggested that al-Qaida planned to car bomb one of the two cities that were hit 10 years ago.

Vice President Joe Biden said Friday that there was no confirmation that anyone had traveled into the U.S. for such a plot although the tip came from a credible source. “There’s no certitude,” he said.

“The thing we are all most worried about is what they call a `lone ranger,’ a lone actor, not some extremely complicated plan like it took to take down the World Trade towers,” said Biden, who appeared on the trio of network morning TV shows Friday.

A U.S. official said the source of the terror tip indicated that al-Qaida’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, was involved in planning the plot. But the official also said that many in the intelligence community question that and other aspects of the source’s information.

The nation’s terror alert level has not changed, but raising it was under consideration Thursday night.

The officials described the threat to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security matters.

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