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Country returns to 'yellow' alert

By MICHAEL KIRKLAND, UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- The country returned to "yellow" alert status Tuesday as top security officials decided the threat of terrorism had lessened.

The United States was put on a higher "orange" alert for the Sept. 11 anniversary.

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The Homeland Security Advisory System goes from a green "low" alert, to a blue "guarded," to a yellow "elevated," to an orange "high" to a red "severe" stage.

The country has been on yellow alert since the system was instituted in March by presidential directive, except for the period Sept. 10 through Tuesday.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said the time had come to lower the alert status.

"Based on a review of intelligence and an assessment of threats by the intelligence community, as well as the passing of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the disruption of potential terrorist operations in the United States and abroad," the statement said, Ashcroft and Ridge have "made the decision to return the threat level to an elevated risk of terrorist attack, or 'yellow' level."

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The statement said: "the recent arrests of six men in suburban Buffalo (N.Y.) who are alleged to have provided material support to al Qaida" contributed to the decision. "In addition, senior al Qaida operatives have been captured in Pakistan and other al Qaida members have been apprehended in Singapore and Yemen. These actions have disrupted terrorist operations by neutralizing certain senior al Qaida leadership and removing other terrorist planners and operatives."

The statement said the lowering of the threat level "is not a signal to government, law enforcement or citizens that the danger of a terrorist attack is passed.

"Returning to the elevated level of risk is only an indication that some of the extra protective measures enacted by government and the private sector may be reduced for the time being. We emphasize that the United States and its interests are still at a significant risk of terrorist attack. Detained al Qaida operatives have informed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials that al Qaida will wait until it believes Americans are less vigilant and less prepared before it will strike again," the statement added.

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