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New York police are taking extra safety measures at transit hubs in the city on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, as terrorists seek new ways to conceal bombs, including human implants.
The New York City Police Department began the “security surge” before today’s morning rush hour at sites including Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station and Times Square, to coincide with the anniversary of the al-Qaeda leader’s death, said Paul Browne, an NYPD spokesman.
Hundreds of police officers, some with canine patrols and heavy weapons, have been deployed at transit hubs, along with personnel from the state Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Amtrak, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, New Jersey Transit, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration and the National Guard, said John McCarthy, an NYPD spokesman.
The surge will continue into the evening rush hour, and commuters can expect bag screenings and train patrols, McCarthy said.
So-called body bombs have been a concern for U.S. officials since last year, when the TSA alerted airlines and their counterparts in other nations to the potential risk of implanted explosives. Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been looking for ways to develop bombs stitched into a terrorist’s belly, breasts or buttocks, according to Seth Jones, a counterterrorism specialist at the Rand Corp., a Santa Monica, California-based policy group.
“The intelligence community has been aware for some time of a Yemen-based terrorist bomb maker who has been attempting to perfect the so-called body bomb technique,” the NYPD’s Browne said in an e-mail. “However, we’re not aware of any specific plot at the anniversary involving the airlines or any other target.”
The bomb maker, in a failed plot to kill a Saudi prince, implanted an explosive device in his own brother, according to the U.S. State Department.
Bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEAL commandos during a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011. Al-Qaeda vowed to exact revenge for his death four days later.
Federal air marshals were shifted overseas in advance of the anniversary and security has been increased at airports in the in the U.K. and elsewhere, with a focus on U.S. carriers, ABC News reported yesterday, citing unidentified law enforcement officials.
Sterling Payne, a spokeswoman for the TSA, declined to comment on the ABC report, referring questions to the U.S. Homeland Security Department.
Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for Homeland Security, said al- Qaeda and its allies and affiliates have expressed “continued interest” in attacking Western targets, although there is no indication of any specific or credible threats or plots against the U.S. tied to the anniversary.
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which operates the New York City region’s airports, is “vigilant day in and day out on security matters,” Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the agency, said in a telephone interview.
New York has adopted new security measures since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, posting bomb-sniffing dogs at train stations and airports, and inspecting passengers’ backpacks at subway stations.
Millions of people pass through New York’s transportation hubs every day, making them targets for terrorists. Pennsylvania Station is the busiest U.S. rail hub, with almost 8.4 million riders using the station in 2010, according to Amtrak, the national passenger train service.
About 500,000 people traverse Times Square daily, according to the Times Square Alliance. The intersection, at the heart of New York’s theater district, was the target of a failed truck- bomb plot in May 2010. About 160,000 people a day used the Times Square subway station in 2010, according to the alliance.
Yesterday, a New York man was convicted of plotting to bomb the city’s subways on the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Adis Medunjanin, 28, was found guilty by a jury in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, on nine charges including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
The subway system had an average weekday ridership in 2011 of 5.28 million, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula evaded security with bombs concealed in toner cartridges in 2010 and in an attacker’s underpants on Christmas in 2009. The plots failed. Intelligence helped uncover the printer equipment smuggled aboard two cargo flights from Yemen, and a failed detonation alerted fellow passengers who subdued the would-be bomber aboard a Detroit- bound jet originating in Amsterdam.
In March 2011, the U.S. State Department designated the group’s primary bomb maker, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, as a terrorist. Before joining AQAP, al-Asiri was part of an al- Qaeda-affiliated terrorist cell in Saudi Arabia and was involved in planned bombings of oil facilities there, the U.S. said in a statement.
The State Department said that al-Asiri gained “particular notoriety” for the recruitment of his younger brother as a suicide bomber in a failed assassination attempt of Saudi Prince Muhammed bin Nayif.
“The brutality, novelty and sophistication of the plot is illustrative of the threat posed by al-Asiri,” according to the statement. “Al-Asiri is credited with designing the remotely detonated device, which contained one pound of explosives concealed inside his brother’s body.”
U.S. officials had believed al-Asiri died in a drone strike in Yemen last year that killed U.S.-born al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. He has since resurfaced, the Associated Press reported last week, citing unidentified counterterrorism officials.
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