Three weeks after warning of possible terrorist attacks, the US government on Friday lowered the terror threat level, saying the danger over the holiday season had passed but airlines were still at risk
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced the reduction in the color-coded threat level to "elevated" or "yellow" from "high" or "orange." But he said airlines, other sectors and some unspecified parts of the country would be asked to remain on a heightened state of alert to guard against possible terror attacks.
"We are still concerned about continued threats, but the threat condition we have been following has diminished," he told a news conference. "With the passing of the holidays and many large gatherings ... we have made the decision to come down to yellow."
Despite the drop in the threat level within the US, the State Department said it remained "deeply concerned" about the security of US citizens abroad.
The alert level was raised to "orange" -- the second highest threat level -- on Dec. 21. At the time Ridge warned of a high risk of an attack around the Christmas and New Year holidays that could be bigger than those of Sept. 11, 2001.
Since then, US authorities have passed on intelligence regarding specific threats to airlines, prompting carriers in Britain, France and Mexico to cancel several flights.
The US also ordered foreign airlines to put armed marshals on some flights and dispatched fighter jets to escort some incoming planes.
The five-level color-coded scheme, established to help Americans better prepare for future attacks, has generally held steady at "yellow" but has been raised to "orange" five times since it was created in March 2002.
Ridge said the heightened alert helped over the busy holiday season.
"The potential danger that large gatherings present during the holidays has passed," he said. "They passed safely and without incident."
Ridge said the government knew in part from interrogating detainees that plans for another attack have been disrupted.
Though Ridge would not specify the sectors the government is most concerned about, he said airlines are still at risk.