Subway bomb threat appears fabricated

Heightened security to be scaled back

October 11, 2005|By ROCCO PARASCANDOLA AND KNUT ROYCE | ROCCO PARASCANDOLA AND KNUT ROYCE,NEWSDAY

NEW YORK -- Sources confirmed yesterday that the terrorist threat that prompted days of precautions in the city's subways appeared to be fabricated, and authorities announced that they will soon scale back the heavy security implemented last week.

A counterterrorism source and two Bush administration officials said interrogators in Iraq determined over the weekend that an informant, previously deemed reliable, apparently misled them this time.

The scaling back follows nearly four days of confusion and mixed messages, with the New York Police Department flooding the subway system with thousands of extra officers while federal officials questioned the tip.

But yesterday, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg stood by security measures put in place Thursday, stressing that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security never said the tip was wrong.

"What they said is they have been unable to verify this particular threat," Bloomberg said. "And since the period of the threat now seems to be passing, I think over the immediate future we'll slowly be winding down the enhanced security."

Police will still conduct random bag searches and take other precautions launched after the July 7 bombing in the London transit system.

The warning was announced Thursday after two operatives were questioned in Iraq based on a tip from an informant described by a city official as someone who has provided useful information in the past.

The tip, spelled out in a Department of Homeland Security memo, was as specific as any the city had seen after the Sept. 11 attacks.

A cell of terrorists, the memo said, might try to bomb the subway, using baby strollers or briefcases to conceal explosives, "on or about Oct. 9."

In response, the city increased police patrols in the subway system. But even as Kelly and Bloomberg were announcing the threat, the Department of Homeland Security was casting doubt on the information, saying it lacked credibility.

On Friday came word that a third operative had been arrested in Iraq and that police were looking for one operative who might be in New York.

Rep. Peter T. King, a New York Republican, said the easing of worries hasn't changed his opinion that the Department of Homeland Security mishandled the threat.

King, who is chairman of the House subcommittee on homeland security, has said he'll convene hearings to grill agency officials for declaring the threat of "doubtful credibility."

Rocco Parascandola and Knut Royce write for Newsday.

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