BeyondHeadlines Foreign Desk
New Delhi: Authorities in New York and New Jersey have increased security after reports of a credible, uncorroborated threat that terrorists may be plotting an attack in the city around the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Police cruisers have taken up positions on midtown blocks on Lexington, Park and Fifth avenues in Manhattan as officers stopped trucks and other vehicles for inspection. Drivers were made to open the storage spaces of delivery trucks for police.
In Brooklyn, US marshals armed with machine guns guarded the federal courthouse and increased security was observed in front of the nearby city emergency management office.
“We have already had a full complement of people working shifts because of the September 11 anniversary prior to this,” FBI spokesman Jim Margolin said.
“We are taking the logical investigative measures to assess this threat.”
New York police officers will extend their shifts by four hours at least through until September 12.
Police commissioner Ray Kelly said police would increase vehicle checks and monitor bridges and tunnels.
They will also increase baggage screenings in subways, patrol outside places of worship and government buildings and conduct bomb sweeps of public garages.
“We will deploy quick-reaction teams consisting of heavily armored officers,” Kelly said.
New York landmarks, including Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station, will have heightened security tomorrow, as will major events including the US Open tennis tournament in Queens.
A heavily guarded “frozen zone” for vehicles is being created from West Street to Broadway and Murray to Albany streets in Lower Manhattan. Several streets in the area will be closed over the weekend.
To assist the police, the FBI will mobilise specialized teams, including special agents, bomb technicians and SWAT and hazardous-materials crews.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he had deployed additional state police and National Guard troops throughout the New York City area this weekend, to supplement law enforcement patrols already assigned to regional airports, bus terminals and subway and train stations.
On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four airliners. Two were flown into the twin World Trade Centre towers in New York, destroying them; a third hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia; and one crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers attacked the hijackers. Close to 3000 people were killed.
New York police have stopped at least 13 terrorist attacks since then, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
While the killing of Osama bin Laden has helped reduce the threat, the mayor said, “the one thing we know is the terrorists have not gone away.”
The latest threat concerns a possible al-Qaeda-sponsored attack targeting New York or Washington on or near the anniversary of the 9/11 attack, said an official who wasn’t authorised to discuss the matter publicly.
The official said the intelligence concerns a possible vehicle-borne attack, perhaps on a transportation hub or bottleneck, and cautioned that the options may be broader than a car or truck bombing.
Authorities are “doing everything” possible to confirm the threat, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King said.
“There are literally hundreds if not thousands of names being scrubbed” in a database of suspected terrorists, King said in an interview.
He said investigators were “going to suppliers and store owners, anyone who’s had a car stolen, anyone who’s leased certain types of trucks, anyone who sold explosives.”
King praised the administration of President Barack Obama for its coordination of the investigation.
“This is light years different from pre-September 11, when this information may have sat there,” King said.
An official in Washington said the credible intelligence revolved around a plot possibly hatched by al-Qaeda in Pakistan involving three individuals, including possibly one American.
Another official cautioned that information wasn’t yet confirmed.
A US intelligence alert that federal officials sent to local law enforcement said operatives in the suspected plot may be carrying American documents, according to two people familiar with the alert.
Intelligence officials learned of the possible threat in intercepted communications among suspected al-Qaeda operatives in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, three intelligence officials said.
However, they said, the “chatter”, as they described the intercepted conversations, did not name the alleged attackers and included only vague descriptions of vehicle-borne attacks on the two most likely targets on a day of obvious significance and media attention.
Three weeks ago, 100 New Jersey state police detectives began contacting 2500 businesses that may be used by terrorists, including fertiliser suppliers, truck rental agencies and hotels in a so-called trip-wire operation designed to produce leads, New Jersey State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes said.
“Those are the people you need to connect to; the people who are going to give you the initial leads that are going to get you to the bottom of terror operations,” Fuentes said.
Bloomberg said New York received “threats all the time.”
“Each time we increase our security, which obviously we had done for this. Are we increasing a little more? Yes, we’re increasing a little more but there’s a limit to how much you can have, just because you can’t have a cop on every corner,” he said.
“But remember, a lot of the precautions we take, you don’t see.”
Obama, who is scheduled to attend ceremonies at Ground Zero tomorrow with former President George W. Bush, was briefed on the threat yesterday by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, and Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough before leaving for a speech in Richmond, Virginia.
“As we head into the 9/11 anniversary weekend, we continue to urge the American public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities,” Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said in a statement.
“We take all threat reporting, including the recent specific, credible but unconfirmed threat information, seriously.”