President Obama has ordered the US counterterrorism community to strengthen its efforts in response to reports of a credible, specific but unconfirmed terrorist threat against New York and Washington, DC around the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the White House said Thursday.
A law enforcement official told Reuters that "a manhunt was under way for two or three suspects," linked to the unconfirmed threat. But the Reuters report also stressed, "the officials used strong caveats when discussing the threat information privately, with a national security official cautioning that experts thought the threat would ultimately not check out."
"The President was briefed on this specific threat information this morning and has been updated on it throughout the day," a White House official told journalists by email Thursday evening.
"The United States government has already significantly enhanced its security posture in advance of the 9/11 anniversary to protect the country against possible terrorist threats," he continued. "Nevertheless, the President directed the counterterrorism community to redouble its efforts in response to this credible but unconfirmed information."
A report in the Wall Street Journal noted the United States had unspecified intelligence "showing al Qaeda militants in Pakistan may be preparing to carry out car bombings in Washington, D.C., and New York City, timed to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks," according to a U.S. counterterrorism official.
CBS News reported that there's a second potential threat to New York City bridges and tunnels.
Former Bush White House counterterrorism advisor Fran Townsend suggested that the threat information may be coming from an al Qaeda operative, Younis al-Mauretani, who was reportedly arrested by Pakistani officials earlier this week.
The threat info is "from overseas. Al Mauretani just arrested in Pakistan & Info is likely from him via the [Pakistanis]," she posted to Twitter. "If so, good sign of Pakistan [counterterrorism] cooperation."
Younis al-Mauretani "is a big get," White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan told journalists Thursday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, in answer to a question from the Envoy. But in terms of reported estimates that there remain only about 20 or so core al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, Brennan said "it all depends on how you characterize 'leaders.'"
"As you take out the so-called leaders, people move up in the system," he said. "There are still a number of people in Pakistan who are determined to" plot attacks. "The job is not done there [in Pakistan] by any measure."
"The terror threat at this moment has not been corroborated, but we live in a world where we must take these threats seriously - and we are," the office of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Twitter late Thursday, following his press conference.