City on high alert before 9/11 anniversary

Sep 11, 2011 Issues: Counterterrorism

Newsday -- by KEITH HERBERT

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the NYPD Saturday continued unprecedented security efforts in the wake of a recent tip about a possible terror plot against New York or Washington.

But even as extra police and National Guard soldiers manned Manhattan's train stations and rail centers, federal government officials acknowledged that they have found no evidence that al-Qaida has sneaked any terrorists into the country for an attack on or near the anniversary.

Police Saturday also continued searching vans and trucks on city streets, and vehicles heading toward bridges and tunnels.

"It's crazy security everywhere," said William Dunnell, 47, of the Bronx, who was at Penn Station in Manhattan. "Everywhere I went in midtown, there's dogs, cops, military, everything."

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the vehicle checkpoints were unprecedented. "It's probably the most extensive ever," he said.

Since late Wednesday, counterterrorism officials have chased a tip that al-Qaida may have sent three men to the United States to detonate a car bomb in New York City or Washington, D.C. Should that mission prove impossible, according to the tip, the attackers have been told to cause as much destruction as they can, one federal official told The Associated Press.

At least two of the men could be U.S. citizens or have U.S. papers, the AP reported. U.S. officials say they have no evidence there is anyone in the United States tied to the plot and there has been no corroboration of the tip, the AP said.

Still, law enforcement in Manhattan remained on guard.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano inspected the NYPD's Joint Operations Center at police headquarters, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly briefed her on security plans, Browne said.

Even reports of three vehicle thefts drew a second, more thorough look, Browne said.

The alleged thefts Sept. 1 and 2 of two vans from Queens-based Tully Construction, which is one of the contractors working at the World Trade Center site, and the Aug. 21 alleged theft of an Econoline van from Liberty Storage in Jersey City, N.J., were being examined, Browne said.

"These may very well be savvy thieves looking to steal expensive construction equipment," Browne said. "It's receiving greater scrutiny because of the threat environment."

On Long Island, police increased patrols around transportation facilities and on the roads.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), chairman of the U.S. Homeland Security Committee, called law enforcement's effort to prevent a terrorist attack a "full-court press." "They're looking at anything," King said Saturday.

At 52nd Street and Eighth Avenue, Frank Lora, 25, of Washington Heights, said police peered into his white cargo van three times, more than they did Friday.

"They just pulled us aside, said, 'Can we take a look at your cargo?,' opened the door, looked inside," Lora said. "They knew we were just delivering packages, so they let us go."