N.Y. raises security in subway system

`Specific threat' of attack, FBI official says

October 07, 2005|By LISA ANDERSON AND KIRSTEN SCHARNBERG | LISA ANDERSON AND KIRSTEN SCHARNBERG,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

NEW YORK -- Police, counterterrorism teams and special emergency response units fanned out across the city yesterday afternoon as the mayor announced the first specific and credible terrorist threat to New York City's vast subway system and its 4.5 million daily riders.

Urging New Yorkers to avoid entering subways with briefcases, baby strollers, backpacks and other containers that could conceal explosives, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg also sought their help.

"We ask that the public remain vigilant. If you see something, say something," he said during a rush-hour news conference at police headquarters in Lower Manhattan.

City officials said that until further notice there will be increased police presence - in uniform and plain clothes - in and around the city's 468 subway stations and on its trains, which ply about 840 miles of track.

Mark Mershon, assistant director of the FBI and head of its New York field office, said he wouldn't reveal the nature of the potential attack, "but the detail of this specific threat was so on-point that we did raise this concern with the New York City Police Department."

The mayor indicated the city knew of the threat some days ago, but he would not give the date.

Mershon said, "The encouraging news is that classified operations have, in fact, partially disrupted this threat."

However, he and others said rather cryptically that the threat had not been fully corroborated.

And Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke said in a statement that his agency considered the threat to be of "doubtful credibility." He did not elaborate.

Asked about possible links to a reported raid this week on an al-Qaida cell near Baghdad and the arrest of three people there, Mershon said, "I appreciate that there may be other reporting on this. Please understand our operations are classified and we cannot discuss them."

Bloomberg, however, confirmed that the threat had originated "overseas" and said that the city judged it could safely delay making a public announcement for some days.

"There were operations taking place that we thought were in the interest of ending the threat and to release the information earlier could have jeopardized the lives of those conducting those operations," he said.

The subways were busy but calm in the early evening hours as workers headed home. But, because the mayor's announcement came about 5:30 p.m., many commuters hadn't yet heard of the new threats.

Asked whether people should avoid the subways, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, "People have to make that decision on their own."

But Bloomberg, who lives in an Upper East Side townhouse, said, "In the meantime, you should know that tonight, I'm going to take the subway going uptown.

"And, tomorrow morning I'm going to do what I always do - get on the train and go to work, and I know a lot of other New Yorkers will do exactly the same thing."

Lisa Anderson and Kirsten Scharnberg write for the Chicago Tribune.

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