U.S. officials said Thursday they were investigating a credible but unconfirmed threat that al-Qaeda was planning to use a car bomb to target bridges or tunnels in New York City or Washington to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the first tip of an “active plot” around that date.
President Barack Obama was briefed on the information earlier on Thursday and requested that counterterrorism officials step up their response to the suspected threat, according to White House spokesmen.
In a late-night press conference, Raymond Kelly, the New York police commissioner, said vehicle checkpoints would be set up around the city, and that police would place “increased focus” on the city’s bridges and tunnels. More random bag checks would take place on public transport, he said. “There will be increased towing of illegal cars and increased bomb sweeps of parking garages,” he added.
Alongside Mr Kelly, Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, said: “The best thing we can do to fight terror is to not let it intimidate us.” He said he would be taking a Subway train to work. “I can tell you our ceremonies will go on over the weekend exactly as they were planned.”
Janice Fedarcyk, the head of the FBI’s New York division, said: “There is specific, credible but unconfirmed threat information. As we always do before important dates like the anniversary of 9/11, we will undoubtedly get more reporting in the coming days.”
The FBI and Homeland Security Department issued a joint intelligence bulletin Thursday night to law enforcement around the country urging them to maintain enhanced security and be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the homeland security department, said in a statement: “As we know from the intelligence gathered from the Osama bin Laden raid, al-Qaida has shown an interest in important dates and anniversaries, such as 9/11. In this instance, it’s accurate that there is specific, credible but unconfirmed threat information.
“As we always do before important dates like the anniversary of 9/11, we 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 under way. 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 Telegraph reports that three people who recently entered the country, one of them a US citizen, are urgently being investigated by security officials over a potential plot to detonate vehicle bombs, possibly on bridges or tunnels.
Early reports indicated that attention was being focused on two missing rental trucks in Kansas City, Missouri, but these were later said to have been discovered and ruled out as a threat.
Notes sezied in the US raid on the Pakistani hideout of Osama bin Laden, the former al-Qaeda leader, in May, indicated that the terrorist network had discussed the possibility of attacks to coincide with Sunday’s anniversary. A strike against American trains was suggested.
The suspected threat came as America prepared to mark the anniversary of 9/11 with a series of events commemorating the nearly 3,000 people who died when hijackers crashed planes into the World Trade Centre in New York, the Pentagon, and a field in rural Pennsylvania.
The largest event will be the reading of victims’ names at Ground Zero in Manhattan. It will be attended by many victims’ family members, Mr Obama, former president George W. Bush, and Mr Bloomberg.
Although there have been no attacks on the scale of 9/11 in the United States in the 10 years since, the nation has been on heightened alert amid a series of foiled and failed attacks. [via The Telegraph, Reuters and The Guardian]