USA

Stepped-up security, including rifle-toting police in some locations, was put in place at prominent financial institutions in New York, Washington, and Newark, N.J., after federal authorities - citing what Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge called a confluence of detailed intelligence - warned of potential Al Qaeda bombing attacks. "We are deploying our full array of counterterrorism resources," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as his city closed several streets Monday in midtown Manhattan and banned trucks from bridges and tunnels leading to Wall Street. Financial institutions in the alerted cities opened as scheduled. Among the buildings the government said may be targets are the Citigroup Inc. headquarters and the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank buildings in Washington, and the Prudential Financial Inc. building in Newark. Suspicions stem from a cache of recently obtained information - including photos and drawings - that indicate Al Qaeda operatives have cased these buildings.

President Bush announced Monday that he has decided to create a national intelligence director and a national counter- terrorism center, as recommended by the special Sept. 11 commission, but will not heed the commission's suggestion to place the center in the White House. The president's task force advised keeping the center independent of the executive office of the president, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

John Kerry's two-week presidential campaign caravan reached Grand Rapids, Mich., Monday, continuing the Democratic nominee's push to connect with conservative-leaning independent voters. Besides focusing on perceived links to average Americans - a shared interest in hunting, fishing, family, and faith - Kerry released a blueprint of 33 policy changes he'd make if elected. The Bush campaign said the president has already acted on most of Kerry's ideas.

Although on summer leave, the Supreme Court said Monday that it will order two cases involving the federal prison sentencing of drug defendants placed on its docket on the first day of the new court term in October. In each case, at issue will be a system authorized by Congress two decades ago designed to reduce disparities among punishments handed out by different judges.

The center of tropical storm Alex, the first named storm of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season, swirled about 100 miles south-southeast of Charleston, S.C, Monday, with landfall expected in the Carolinas Tuesday. No serious wind speeds were reported, but conditions were expected to worsen.

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