Fearful of potential terrorist attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered sharply increased security measures at the nation's airports Tuesday as a direct result of the arrest in Washington State last week of an Algerian man driving a car from Canada containing ingredients for four crude bombs.
The effort, as well as a separate move by the U.S. Customs Service to deploy 350 extra agents to remote border crossings, represent a dramatic new public response by the federal government to what a White House official called a "heightened terrorist threat" to U.S. citizens at home and abroad.
The State Department also issued a new warning late Tuesday, cautioning Americans overseas that terrorist attacks may be directed at religious festivities or other large gatherings to mark the millennium. It urged Americans abroad to keep a low profile and vary their routes of travel.
Under pressure from the United States and critics at home, Canada
has also increased security measures.
Customs Canada announced more agents will check bags and passengers at Canadian airports, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said it was increasing security outside the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.
The FAA's orders, which range from increased use of devices to check passengers for trace amounts of explosives to a warning not to carry gift-wrapped items, may mean additional delays for air travelers just as the heavily booked holiday season gets into full swing.
Officials said Tuesday that the FBI was searching for three possible accomplices of the arrested Algerian, Ahmed Ressam. Investigators and counterterrorism experts fear he was delivering bomb-making material to others, and thus was part of a larger international terrorist ring.
"Their guess is he's part of a cell, and that there are people who are on this side of the border who he would be dealing with," said Vincent Cannistraro, former director of counterterrorism operations at the CIA.
A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity also said authorities were looking for a 31-year-old U.S. citizen from California with ties to suspected Afghan terrorist Osama bin Laden.
On Sunday, U.S. Border Patrol officers in Vermont said they arrested two people at a border station at Beecher Falls. One was an Algerian national with a falsified Canadian passport; the other was a Canadian woman. A clerk at the U.S. District Court in Burlington identified them as Bouabide Chamchi, 20, and Lucia Garofalo, 35.
Bomb-sniffing dogs indicated they had found something in Garofalo's car. No bombs were found. Authorities say Garofalo had tried repeatedly this month to enter the country at remote spots along Quebec's border with New England. She was allowed to enter the United States on Dec. 6 and returned to Canada on Dec. 12.
Mark Henry, assistant chief of the Border Patrol sector covering Vermont, said he knew of no link between the Washington state incident and Sunday's attempted entry in Vermont.
The White House repeated previous assertions that no evidence pointed to specific threats against targets in the United States.
Ressam, 32, was arrested Dec. 14 after he tried to flee on foot from a U.S. Customs agent in Port Angeles, north of Seattle. Ressam had crossed on a ferry from Canada with more than 130 pounds of bomb-making chemicals hidden in the trunk of his car, as well as four homemade timing devices used to detonate bombs.
Ressam carried a false passport and driver's license, and had reservations to fly the next day from Seattle to New York and connect to a London-bound flight, officials said.
The FAA said it would deploy more uniformed police with bomb-sniffing dogs both inside and outside of airport terminals. Additional trace explosives detector units may be used at security checkpoints, and more FAA inspectors will be active to help monitor security operations, the agency said in a statement.
"All passengers are encouraged to be alert for any suspicious, unattended bags, parcels or other items, and report them immediately to airport personnel," the statement said.
The FAA also warned that "those who travel to the airport in anything other than public transportation should be aware that local parking restrictions are being strictly enforced," and that passengers "can avoid inconvenience by not gift-wrapping items they are taking with them."
James Kallstrom, former head of the FBI's New York field office, warned that the advent of the new millennium on Jan. 1 may be an especially tempting target for terrorists.
"There's an awful lot of symbolism connected to this event," he said. "And we know there are people who hate America and our way of life and what we stand for."