U.S. warns of 'credible' threat to Washington, New York

Friday, September 9, 2011

U.S. warns of 'credible' threat to Washington, New York

U.S. warns of 'credible' threat to Washington, New YorkWASHINGTON — U.S. security and intelligence agencies have "specific" information about a potential terror plot against New York or Washington around this weekend's 10th anniversary ceremonies commemorating the 9/11 attacks, officials said Thursday night.

"It's accurate that there is specific, credible but unconfirmed threat information," Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler said in a statement.

Intelligence gathered after the killing of Osama bin Laden showed the al-Qaida leader had an interest in "important dates and anniversaries" such as 9/11, Chandler said.

He said officials will "undoubtedly get more reporting" in the coming days.

"Sometimes this reporting is credible and warrants intense focus, other times it lacks credibility and is highly unlikely to be reflective of real plots underway," Chandler said. "Regardless, we take all threat reporting seriously, and we have taken, and will continue to take all steps necessary to mitigate any threats that arise. We continue to ask the American people to remain vigilant as we head into the weekend."

The warning immediately prompted officials in New York City to step up security measures ahead of weekend ceremonies.

At a late night news conference in Manhattan, Ray Kelly, New York police commissioner, said people in the city could expect a sharp increase in the number of subway and traffic checks. The NYPD, which already had beefed up security efforts ahead of Sunday's anniversary, is taking additional measures in response to the threat, Kelly said.

The police department is adding additional bomb-sniffing dog patrols and holding officers for longer shifts. In particular, police will be increasing their focus on tunnels and bridges leading into Manhattan. Kelly said there would be more bomb sweeps of parking garages and increased towing of cars parked on streets.

"The public is likely to see and may be somewhat inconvenienced by vehicle checkpoints," Kelly said.

According to ABC News, at least three individuals — one of them possibly an American — arrived in the U.S. last month via air aiming to launch a "vehicle-borne attack" against either city. CNN also said Homeland Security officials had briefed senior officials, including U.S. President Barack Obama, about a specific but unconfirmed plan to attack a U.S. target.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters the threat "at this point has not been corroborated. It is credible, but not corroborated."

Bloomberg cautioned people against alarm and said he planned to take the New York subway to work on Friday morning, "and feel just as safe" as he did on Thursday.

"We know the terrorists view the anniversary as an opportunity to strike again," Bloomberg said.

"Here's what you have got to do: If you see something, say something."

The mayor added, "The best thing we can do to fight terrorism is to refuse to be intimidated by it. So go about your business as you normally would, but just be vigilant."

Janet Napolitano, the U.S. Homeland Security secretary, had said earlier Thursday there was no specific information, but American intelligence had picked up "a lot of chatter" on extremist networks around the information.

"In the intel world, there is lots of chatter and we are taking it very seriously," Napolitano said.

Reuters news agency cited a U.S. official who said "the context" of the plot is still forming.

The first information around the plot reportedly had been gathered on Wednesday and concerned the potential of explosive-laden vehicles. Officials are now trying to determine the precise nature and seriousness of any plan.

As often happens, news of a threat prompted early confusion.

ABC News reported law enforcement officials were searching for at least two rental trucks — one from Budget and another from Penske — that had gone missing from Kansas City, Missouri. CNN later reported the trucks had been located and were not connected to possible terrorism.

"I would tell people right now to go about their lives. There's no need to panic," New York Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House homeland security committee, told CNN. "We've come a long ways since Sept. 11. Many agencies are looking at this from every possible angle."

Still, people should "keep their eyes open" for suspicious activity, he said.

The reports of a terror plot threatened to cast a shadow over commemoration ceremonies at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan and at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

Obama and former president George W. Bush are planning to attend the ceremonies in New York. Separate anniversary ceremonies are planned at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed.

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