Another Warning from Zubaydah

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Abu Zubaydah

The FBI has issued another alert about possible terrorism attacks, but this time quietly. Law enforcement sources tell TIME that the bureau has sent word to its field offices and 56 federal terrorism task forces that they should advise local officials to tighten security around large apartment buildings, as well as busy malls, supermarkets and restaurants. The alert is a response to statements made by the same man whose words put U.S. banks on alert two weeks ago — captured bin Laden aide Abu Zubaydah.

According to sources, Zubaydah told interrogators that al-Qaeda operatives were discussing attacks on "soft targets," meaning non-governmental buildings and places where large numbers of Americans gather. Although investigators remain leery of anything Zubaydah says, they don't want to discount his remarks entirely. So, instead of issuing a public warning that might turn out to be a false alarm, this time they passed the message along to local police chiefs and mayors discreetly.

Meanwhile, the bureau is about to send more agents to Spain, to help Spanish authorities pull together tantalizing evidence of a thriving al-Qaeda network based there prior to Sept. 11. For one thing, the FBI wants to determine exactly whom 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta met with when he visited Spain in July, 2001. One person they suspect he may have linked up with is Ramzi Binalshibh, a member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell and a former roommate of Atta's, who visited Spain at the same time.

Binalshibh, a Yemeni who sent money from Germany to 9/11 hijackers and also to accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, hasn?t been seen since he flew from Hamburg to Madrid on Sept. 5. Investigators believe he made his way to the border regions of Pakistan and is still hiding there. But if the FBI can establish whether Binalshibh and Atta were in Spain together — and find out who else was with them — they may be able to warm up the trail.