updated 8/27/2004 10:52:01 AM ET 2004-08-27T14:52:01

Al-Qaida may attempt to attack Veterans Affairs hospitals as an alternative to more heavily guarded U.S. military installations, the FBI and Homeland Security Department warn in a new nationwide terrorism bulletin.

Although U.S. authorities say there is no credible intelligence regarding a specific threat against such hospitals, the bulletin said there have been persistent reports of “suspicious activity” at medical facilities throughout the United States.

That includes “possible reconnaissance activities” this year at unspecified medical facilities in Bethesda, Md., and Aurora, Colo., the bulletin said. Even though later investigation of these two incidents uncovered no links to terrorism, the bulletin urges vigilance at VA hospitals on the part of police and security personnel.

“These facilities may be considered attractive targets due to their association with the military and a perception that such an attack may be more successful than an attack against traditional military targets, which generally maintain a more robust security posture,” the bulletin says.

The bulletin was circulated among law enforcement and security personnel nationwide Thursday. The Associated Press obtained a copy Friday.

The bulletin repeats a number of previously released indicators of possible terrorist surveillance. These include unusual interest in security measures or access points of buildings; operatives possibly disguised as “panhandlers, shoe shiners, food or flower vendors”; discreet use of video cameras in areas not frequented by tourists; and individuals seen observing security drills or procedures.

U.S. officials have repeatedly warned that al-Qaida is likely to attempt an attack inside the United States before the Nov. 2 election. Security is extraordinarily tight for next week’s Republican National Convention in New York, where captured al-Qaida documents indicated planning for possible strikes against financial interests in New York and Newark, N.J.

The FBI has also previously warned that al-Qaida might attempt to attack lightly guarded targets such as apartment buildings and hotels.

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