W A S H I N G T O N, April 18-- U.S. intelligence officials have uncovered evidence of a potential terrorist attack, ABCNEWS has learned.
Like many such tips, it is vague, but the government is disturbed enough that it held a rare conference call with local police to warn them.
The intelligence, received a week ago but secret until now, is from known Muslim extremists who suggested an attack -- possibly in the U.S. -- was imminent, and that operatives were already "in place," sources tell ABCNEWS.
"I think it's very clear from what we're seeing right now is that the bad guys, the al Qaeda, is getting very creative, that they are active and that they are going to continue to try and hit us," said Jerry Hauer, a former emergency management official and now an ABCNEWS consultant.
On the Lookout
The primary area of concern is so-called soft targets. Police were told to be on the lookout for surveillance of landmarks, and for suspicious items left in malls, subway stations or other large gatherings.
On Friday, April 9, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security held a rare secure conference call with police in dozens of major cities.
By Saturday, April 10, a classified bulletin was sent out warning that groups affiliated with al Qaeda might be planning attacks in the U.S. on the scale seen in Madrid last month.
"I think what they're doing here is acting what they feel is responsibly," said Jack Cloonan, a former FBI agent and now and ABCNEWS consultant. They want to "get the information out, [saying] 'We don't want to be criticized for holding onto stuff, even if it's non-specific.' You have to get it out."
Chasing Down Leads
Intelligence agencies from around the world are chasing down leads to verify the threat.
Sources tell ABCNEWS the information is not specific enough to raise the national threat level from yellow to orange. In addition, officials have not seen a huge surge in intelligence information.
However, officials were concerned enough by who was giving the information that they passed it to local police.