NEW YORK — A tip claiming Al-Qaeda may have sent American terrorists or men carrying U.S. travel documents to attack Washington or New York on the ten year anniversary of 9/11 has heightened security within the two cities.
Though the tip is unconfirmed, it is said to be credible. A CIA informant who has proven reliable in the past approached intelligence officials overseas to say that the men had been ordered by newly minted Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahri to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Sunday by doing harm on U.S. soil.
According to AP, one U.S. official says Al-Qaeda dispatched three men, at least two of whom could be U.S. citizens, to detonate a car bomb in one of the cities. Should that mission prove impossible, the attackers have been told to simply cause as much destruction as they can.
Speaking in New York, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there was “a specific, credible but unconfirmed report that Al-Qaeda, again, is seeking to harm Americans and in particular, to target New York and Washington.”
In a notebook found in the compound of Osama bin Laden after he was killed in May, the Al-Qaeda leader mused about the possibility of mounting an attack on the 9/11 anniversary, and the police in New York and Washington were already on alert for trouble.
According to New York Times, two senior American law enforcement officials said an informer in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region passed word of the plot, intended to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, to American intelligence officers on Wednesday. The informer said two American citizens of Arab ancestry had left Afghanistan, traveled through one or more other countries and reached the United States as recently as last week.
But the informer’s information on the plot was second or third-hand, another official said. It included only a vague physical description of the two men — one described as 5 feet tall, the other 5-foot-8 — and a first name for one, Suliman, that is common in the Middle East. The tipster also described a third conspirator, but he appeared to have traveled to Europe. “All this information is very, very sketchy,” one of the law enforcement officials said.
At Penn Station in New York, transit authority police carried assault rifles and wore helmets and bullet-proof vests as they watched crowds of commuters. Police searched passengers’ bags as they entered the subway, and National Guard troops in camouflage fatigues moved among riders, eyeing packages.
Bomb-sniffing dogs were deployed in the Washington subway, and the police searched vehicles at the Brooklyn Bridge. More bomb sweeps of parking garages were planned; ferries were to be given extra police coverage; and cars parked illegally were to be towed quickly, not just ticketed.
In Washington, Police Chief Cathy Lanier warned that unattended cars parked in suspicious locations or near critical buildings and structures would be towed.
Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, issued a statement Friday urging public vigilance. “As we head into the 9/11 anniversary weekend, we continue to urge the American public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities. Simply put, if you see something, say something. We take all threat reporting, including the recent specific, credible but unconfirmed threat information, seriously.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, too, made a point of taking the subway to City Hall. Of the latest threat, the mayor said, “It’s serious, but I think the right answer is to go about your business.”