Baby buggy bomber fears
This story was reported by:
ALISON GENDAR, DAVID SALTONSTALL
and GREG B. SMITH in New York
and JAMES GORDON MEEK in Washington
It was written by: TRACY CONNOR
Friday, October 7th, 2005
A terrorist plot to attack the subways with bomb-laden baby carriages and briefcases - the most specific threat ever made against the city - triggered a massive security crackdown yesterday.
Details of the chilling scheme came from an informant, but officials kept it secret for three days while suspects were rounded up in Iraq and security was quietly ramped up here, sources said.
One source said the group was aiming to strike in mid-October. Another official said the target date was this holiday weekend, and that the plotters were linked to Al Qaeda.
Though Homeland Security officials in Washington downplayed the threat, deeming it of "doubtful credibility," FBI and NYPD officials said the level of detail gave it more significance than the usual terrorist chatter.
"It was more specific as to target, it was more specific as to timing," Mayor Bloomberg said as the NYPD began visibly beefing up police presence in the subways. "It was not the kind of thing that appears in the intelligence community every day."
FBI Assistant Director Mark Mershon said the report his agents got was "so on point" that he was compelled to warn the NYPD.
"The good news is that classified actions have partially disrupted this threat," Mershon said, standing with Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
A tipster who has given accurate information to the FBI in the past exposed the plot and named three operatives, a law enforcement source said.
Up to a dozen terrorists planned to come to the city and assemble into cells of suicide bombers who would attack the subways - hiding explosives in strollers and briefcases - a senior intelligence official said.
The terrorists envisioned a series of attacks that would be "London-scale, not World Trade Center-scale," the intelligence official said. "They'd be terror strikes instead of spectaculars."
The feds rushed to derail the plot, and two of the three operatives were arrested south of Baghdad yesterday - freeing the NYPD to tell the public about the threat, sources said.
Kelly announced a raft of security measures aimed at catching or deterring terrorists at large. But none of the subway plotters was believed to be in the U.S.
Still, one of the nabbed suspects may have come to the city at some point to case the subway system before returning to the Middle East, a federal law enforcement official said.
Cops will sweep train cars and search passengers, with particular attention to briefcases, baby strollers, luggage and containers that could conceal bombs.
Detectives have been pulled from other assignments to patrol the system, and a marked police car with two officers will be deployed at every station.
Random searches of straphangers began in late July after London's public transportation system was attacked twice, killing at least 52 people.
Despite the unprecedented crackdown in New York, security experts say it is impossible to completely safeguard the city's 467 subway stations.
Police officials said that they've been finding painted white bricks in subways with the warning, "If this was a bomb, you'd be dead."
But Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said the bricks were believed to be a protest of the random bag searches.
Bloomberg urged straphangers not to abandon the subway.
"[Tomorrow] I'm going to do what I always do - get on the train and go to work," he said.
The mayor also said the city is depending on commuters to be the eyes and ears of the NYPD.
"If you see something, say something. Call 311 or 911 if it's an emergency," he said.
City officials defended their decision to leave the public in the dark about the threat for days, saying the priority was finding the plot masterminds.
"There were operations taking place that we thought were in the interest of ending the threat, and releasing the information early could have jeopardized the lives of those conducting those operations," Bloomberg said.
But there was sharp disagreement between Homeland Security and the FBI and NYPD about how real the threat was.
"The intelligence community has concluded this information to be of doubtful credibility. We shared this information early on with state and local authorities in New York," Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said.
City sources disputed that, and a senior intelligence official in Washington said the information had stood up to "multiple layers of scrutiny."
Mayor Bloomberg rides subway after yesterday's terror-alert press conference.
Pros: Keep your cool
To deal with the latest terror threat, the Daily News consulted police and two health experts - Kent State psychology Prof. Dr. Stevan Hobfoll and Dr. Richard Shadick, director of counseling at Pace University - on how to cope:
Q.Should I alter or abandon my daily routine and activities?
A. No, says Hobfoll, a former Israeli Army officer. Civilians' duty in the war on terror is not to succumb to terrorists’ efforts to create fear, change and chaos.
"It gives you the sense of purpose and control," he said. "You’re not just going to work, you are participating, in the most important way, in the war on terror."
Q.Should I be afraid of riding the subway?
A. Absolutely not, Hobfoll said. Keep it all in perspective. People routinely ignore potential dangers that are much greater than terrorism, such as being hit by a car. The chance of being killed in a terrorist attack in the United States is probably about 1 in 40 million, he said. The chance of a heart attack: 1 in 400.
Want more reassurance? Mayor Bloomberg is riding the subway this morning and said he would have no problem if his daughters rode the subway.
Q.What if I’m getting anxious?
A. Remember the odds. Write them on an index card and review them. Listen to calming music. Give yourself something to look forward to - time with your children, a walk in the park, going to a play. Have a positive plan that you can think about, Hobfoll said.
Shadick said people should take care of the basics to decrease stress: Exercise, eat right and get enough sleep.
Also, talk with others. Recognizing that others are going through the same emotions helps people realize that they are not alone and not crazy.
Q.Should I do anything differently on the subway?
A. Yes. Unless necessary, leave the backpack, briefcase, package and stroller at home, police said. You will be more likely to be searched. Be alert for anything suspicious, such as abandoned packages and people wearing bulky, heavy jackets in warm weather. If you see something or someone suspicious, alert police or train staff.
***************************And this just came out:
AFX News Limited
Bomb scare at New York's Penn Station - UPDATE
10.07.2005, 01:13 PM
(Updates with detail of scare, Amtrak comment)
NEW YORK (AFX) - A bomb scare today at New York's Penn Station, one of Manhattan's main transport hubs, frayed public nerves already on edge following the threat of a terrorist attack on the city's subway system.
Police officials said they were investigating a suspicious substance that had been reported in a soft-drink can near an Amtrak inter-city line at Penn Station in midtown Manhattan.
Despite the heavy security response, which included National Guard troops and sniffer dogs, an Amtrak spokesman stressed that the risk was minimal.
'There was no danger to anyone at any time,' the spokesman told reporters. 'The train service was not affected at all, nor were any parts of the station evacuated.'
Parts of the station were sealed off as law enforcement officials in bio-hazard suits were seen entering the area.
The scare came a day after city officials warned of the most specific threat to date of an attack on what is one of the world's largest subway systems.
'This is the first time that we have had a threat with this level of specificity,' Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a press briefing yesterday. 'It was more specific as to target, it was more specific as to timing.'
There was a heavy police presence in subway stations Friday morning, with random searches of bags and baby strollers, which had been cited as a possible method of concealing an explosive device.