USA

"Chatter" monitored by US intelligence agencies suggests terrorist groups may be planning new attacks, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told NBC-TV's "Today" program Tuesday, a day after the FBI advised state and local authorities that plots against US targets "cannot be ruled out." The warnings, which did not include a new raising of the nation's security alert level, came as Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge was to give members of Congress a progress report on his new agency.

The House takes up a bill Wednesday to authorize more than $400 billion in defense spending for 2004. The Senate began debating its version Monday. It would meet, or even exceed, the Bush administration's funding requests for many high-tech programs, while ignoring a proposal to reduce congressional oversight. Votes in both chambers are expected by the end of this week, before lawmakers adjourn for their week-long Memorial Day recess.

MCI, formerly WorldCom, agreed to a record $500 million fine by the Securities and Exchange Commission, in a widely expected settlement. The agreement still must be approved by a federal bankruptcy judge who has pledged close scrutiny in light of the massive accounting fraud that precipitated the telecommunications giant's downfall.

The sixth and final member of the "Lackawanna Six" pleaded guilty in federal court in New York Monday to charges of providing "material support" to Al Qaeda. As was the case with five fellow Yemeni-Americans originally accused of operating a terrorist cell in the Buffalo, N.Y., suburb, Mukhtar al-Bakri struck a plea deal with prosecutors on lesser charges and agreed to cooperate with counterterrorism investigators. Bakri acknowledged being trained at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and to meeting with Osama bin Laden.

Alabama lawmakers are considering the biggest tax hikes in state history, under a $1.2 billion proposal submitted by Gov. Bob Riley (R) Monday. Riley called a special legislative session in the capital, Montgomery, to address Alabama's projected $675 million budget shortfall. The package also must be approved by voters.

Early turnout was reported light as voters across Kentucky chose among seven gubernatorial candidates Tuesday. Four Republicans and three Democrats are vying to succeed Gov. Paul Patton (D), who is barred from another term and whose reputation was hurt by a sex scandal. Leading the Democratic field are Jody Richards, the Speaker of the state House, and Attorney General Ben Chandler, grandson of ex-governor and Major League Baseball commissioner Albert "Happy" Chandler. US Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) is regarded the GOP frontrunner.

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