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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The arrest of 14 people in Spain in a suspected Islamist bomb plot has fueled concerns over U.S. security as Bush administration officials are turning their attention to potential election-year threats, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said on Friday.
He said he could not discuss whether there was any U.S. connection in the suspected Barcelona plot, in which police raids last week uncovered explosives and other equipment.
"I just think when you get a plot of that kind exposed, as that one was, aimed at Western Europe or any place else it's a matter of concern. We know what happened last time," Mukasey told reporters. He cited earlier attacks in Spain, Britain and Bali, Indonesia.
In his first extensive meeting with reporters since taking office in November, Mukasey also said security officials were keenly aware of the potential for an al Qaeda strike timed around U.S. national elections November 4.
"I don't want to get into classified briefings, and that's going to get into it up to my hips," he said when asked about the election threat.
"Al Qaeda and other groups have shown that they want to act whenever they can act so as to have the greatest possible effect, by which is meant cause the most deaths and the most alarm and provoke the greatest level of uncertainty in the ability of democratic governments to survive," he said.
"I don't mean to suggest that there's anything specific going on now. It simply means that they're up to it all the time," he said.
Officials including Homeland Security Michael Chertoff have said the U.S. government is preparing for the possibility of an attack aimed at disrupting the election or transition to a new president. They say they know of no credible threats, but cite attacks in Madrid and London tied to political events.
Mukasey said his concerns over terrorism had not abated since he began receiving daily briefings in his new job. "How concerned am I? On a scale of 1 to 10 -- 11."
The attorney-general is part of the administration's push for new legislation governing the wiretapping of foreign terrorism suspects. The existing legislation expires February 1 and some Democrats in Congress are resisting the administration's demand to shield telecommunications firms from lawsuits over their participation in a warrantless domestic wiretapping program.
Mukasey, who is scheduled to appear before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing next week, declined to say whether he would complete by then a promised review of the legality of a simulated-drowning interrogation technique known as waterboarding. Critics say waterboarding is a form of illegal torture.
Mukasey was also asked whether investigators probing the CIA's destruction of videotapes depicting the harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects would be able to seek and prosecute evidence of torture. They can "go where the evidence takes them," he said.