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Ridge says Bush seeks plan against school siege

Wants US authorities to be prepared after deadly Russian crisis

WASHINGTON -- In the days after a terrorist siege at a Russian school, President Bush asked his top advisers to determine how US authorities would handle a similar attack on an American school to ensure adequate coordination in the "unlikely but possible" chance of such an event here, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said yesterday.

Ridge said the US government was still trying to find out key details of how the attack in Beslan, Russia, was planned and carried out -- information he said was vital to helping the United States understand the attack.

He also said it appeared that Russian authorities had a somewhat disjointed response to the crisis, which led to the deaths of more than 300 people.

"How the government and the various entities within the Russian government responded to the incident is not known at this time," Ridge said in an interview with reporters and editors.

"Preliminary reports suggest there wasn't the kind of coordination and leadership and direction and somebody being in charge," he said.

Ridge also extended from his recent statements the amount of time the United States should be on heightened guard against a possible Al Qaeda attack designed to disrupt the democratic process -- from Election Day on Nov. 2 to the presidential inauguration scheduled for Jan. 20.

He said "a couple different sources" -- believed to be sharing credible information -- have talked about this threat to the democratic process.

"You can translate that into anytime between now and the election, now and the inaugural -- or any time we conduct business as a democratic society," he said. "Most people think in terms of either the election or the inaugural."

"We don't really focus so much on the date," he added. "Their intention is well known."

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