Commuters Face Searches on Subways After Threat

10-7-05 - Commuters headed to work Friday under the watchful eyes of police after a newly disclosed terror threat against the New York subway system raised the specter of an attack with explosives concealed in a baby stroller.

"Hopefully, God's with me and I'll be OK," said Vinnie Stella, clutching newspapers under his arm as he entered the subway at Penn Station.

Rob Johnson, 30, said he wasn't worried. "The cops have it under control."

Officials in New York revealed the threat Thursday, saying an FBI source warned that terrorists had plotted to bomb the subway in coming days. But Homeland Security officials in Washington downplayed the threat, saying it's of "doubtful credibility."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it the most specific terrorist threat that New York officials had received to date, and promised to flood the subway system with uniformed and undercover officers.

"We have done and will continue to do everything we can to protect this city," Bloomberg said at a nationally televised news conference. "We will spare no resource, we will spare no expense."

At the Port Authority Bus Terminal, more officers were visible on the streets, and one lane of traffic on Ninth Avenue was reserved for emergency vehicles. But at Penn Station during the start of morning rush hour, some subway riders commented on a lack of visible police presence and said no one had searched their bags.

Margarita Morcillo, 60, said she was not concerned about the new threat as she emerged from the subway at the Port Authority.

"We have to press forward. What can you do about it?"

The New York Police Department boosted existing measures to search for bombs in commuters' bags, brief cases and luggage. The threat also involved the possibility that terrorists would pack a baby stroller with a bomb, a law enforcement official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

The official said the threat was "specific to place," and that the window for the attack was anywhere from Friday through at least the weekend.

In Washington, Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke said "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." Knocke did not elaborate.

A counterterror official, who was briefed about the threat by Homeland Security authorities and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the intelligence did not reflect "on-the-ground, detailed, pre-surveillance" methods consistent with credible information. Rather, the official said, the intelligence was similar to "what can be found on the Internet and a map of New York City."

The law enforcement official in New York said that city officials had known about the threat at least since Monday, but held the information until two or three al-Qaida operatives were arrested in Iraq within the past 24 hours. Once the arrests were made, officials felt they could go public, the official said.

Those arrested had received explosives training in Afghanistan, the same official said Friday. They had planned to travel through Syria to New York, and then meet with an unspecified number of operatives to carry out the bombings.

The U.S. military spokesman's office in Baghdad had no information on the arrests. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he had seen no indication of a U.S. military operation to round up al-Qaida operatives.

On Thursday, a television station said it held off on reporting about the subway threat for two days because officials in New York and Washington voiced concerns that public safety could be affected and ongoing operations jeopardized.

WNBC reporter Jonathan Dienst, who covers security and terrorism issues, said he started making calls about the threat on Tuesday. Local and federal officials then got in touch, expressing concern that airing the story would do damage.

The station decided to hold off, citing "the intensity of the level of the request," said Dan Forman, vice president of news.

An estimated 4.5 million passengers ride the New York subway on an average weekday. The system has more than 468 subway stations. In July, the city began random subway searches following the London train bombings.

Gov. George Pataki said Thursday the state would call up hundreds of National Guard troops and ask Connecticut and New Jersey to patrol commuter trains.

New York's security level remained at orange, the same level it has stayed at since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Bloomberg said there was no indication that the threat was linked to this month's Jewish holidays.


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