Major Calif. bridges called possible targets

National Guard troops dispatched to Golden Gate on FBI warning

War On Terrorism

The World

November 02, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

California Gov. Gray Davis ordered National Guard soldiers posted on the state's four soaring suspension bridges, including San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, after he said yesterday that authorities received "credible evidence" the bridges could be terrorist targets over the next several days.

The tightened security around some of California's most famous landmarks gave a stark specificity to the repeated terrorist alerts issued across the country by federal and local officials in recent weeks, warnings that had unnerved many people precisely because of their vagueness.

Rush-hour attacks

In California, the alert issued by Davis was chilling in its details. The governor said that information from several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, indicated that terrorists could be planning rush-hour attacks on the state's suspension bridges sometime between today and Wednesday.

It was unclear how real the threat might be.

The FBI's warning, dated Wednesday and released last night by Justice Department officials, said the information was uncorroborated and the bureau was "attempting to verify the validity of this report."

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said authorities did not consider the information to be as credible as the intelligence that prompted Attorney General John Ashcroft to issue a broad, nationwide warning Monday for people to be alert for possible terrorist attacks over the next week.

Ashcroft said officials had credible information that possible attacks were being planned, but no details about the timing, the targets or the method.

More specific

The FBI warning issued two days later to officials in several western states, including California, said that "unspecified groups were targeting suspension bridges on the West Coast" and that six incidents were possible during rush hours in the six-day period.

"No further information about this alleged attack is known at this time," the FBI alert said.

"The FBI is attempting to verify the validity of this report. Recipients will be updated as events warrant."

Davis responded to the warning by ordering increased security at the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, both in San Francisco; the Vincent Thomas Bridge at the Port of Los Angeles and the Coronado Bridge in San Diego.

He also decided to go public, telling the state's residents about the threat.

"We are bound and determined to protect Californians," Davis said at a Los Angeles news conference, which had been scheduled to announce the selection of a state security adviser for terrorism issues.

"The best preparation is to let terrorists know: We know what you're up to, we're ready for you," Davis said.

The governor said added protections for the four suspension bridges would come from agencies ranging from the U.S. Coast Guard to the state highway patrol. He said he had ordered an unspecified number of National Guard soldiers to be stationed at each end of the bridges.

California Highway Patrol Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick said police would not restrict traffic, including truck traffic, on any of the bridges nor close the Golden Gate bridge to pedestrians.

Patrolling the bridges is a huge task. Each day hundreds of thousands of vehicles cross the 4,200-foot-long Golden Gate Bridge at the entrance to San Francisco Bay and the 4 1/2 -mile-long Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland.

Heightened security

Helmick told reporters that the state's bridges, like its power plants and water reservoirs, all had been under heightened security since the Sept. 11 hijacking attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"That was clearly a wake-up call for all of us," Helmick said. "I am absolutely certain the state is much safer today than it was before Sept. 11."

He said the state's bridges were safe. But in a candid assessment of the difficult job that officials face trying to guard against terrorists, he added:

"If you're asking me if I can guarantee, under certain circumstances, that someone won't take a truck filled with gasoline and blow it up - I can't do that."

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