- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

Police throughout the region — concerned about the possibility of another strike on Washington by the terrorist organizations behind Tuesday's attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center — are setting up checkpoints on area roads, stopping suspicious vehicles and taking no chances with bomb threats.
"We don't have all the offenders in custody," said D.C. Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer. "I don't think we can let our guard down."
Officials believe at least 50 followers of Osama bin Laden were involved in the hijacking of four passenger jets on Tuesday, but only 18 of those terrorists are believed to have died in the suicide missions aboard the planes.
That leaves several dozen other potential terrorists at large in the country, and area law enforcement officials say they intend to do their part to help apprehend the culprits — and protect Washington.
Chief Gainer said his officers are still on high alert.
"This was a big cabal and they didn't reach all their destinations," he said.
"We have discussed that if the United States would take military action, we would become very vigilant. I heard it would be similar to Desert Storm," Chief Gainer said, referring to the Persian Gulf war operation.
"The White House was a target. It still is," said a law enforcement official who did not want to be identified.
White House officials acknowledge the presidential mansion was a target and law enforcement sources said the Capitol may have been at risk, too.
Around Washington yesterday, police were directing suspicious cars or drivers to pull off roadways and law enforcement agencies throughout the region were taking extra precautions with a rash of bomb threats.
Police are looking for a Plymouth minivan and a Pontiac with Florida tags and a Ryder van that the FBI in Miami say were used by the terrorists.
D.C. police also responded to bomb threats — including threats directed at a local mosque and the U.S. Capitol — and reports of suspicious packages.
"We are getting numerous bomb threats. This has happened before after major events," said Sgt. Joe Gentile, Metropolitan Police Department spokesman.
He noted that people who see anything suspicious should call the police.
He said police are still on heightened alert and officers are working 12-hour shifts with no days off.
Sgt. Gentile added that police will provide additional security at the Washington National Cathedral, which is hosting a "National Day of Prayer and Remembrance" service today at noon.
Police set up a checkpoint on New York Avenue at the D.C.-Maryland line to inspect large trucks as part of the security crackdown.
Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams, said the mayor wants a return to a normal way of life in the District, but that some precautions are necessary.
"It seems apparent by all indications we were a target," he said. "One of the targets was hit and another plane was pointed in our direction."
A bomb threat also disrupted fire and rescue crews at the Pentagon, according to Kim Roberson, Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman. "They had threats and they were forced to evacuate the area," she said.
The Moslem Center on Massachusetts Avenue also had to be evacuated after a bomb threat was made, but nothing was found. Sgt. Gentile said that officers have remained at the center for additional security.
Montgomery County bomb-squad units exploded a suspicious package — it turned out to be a laptop computer — behind Rockville City Hall on Wednesday.
In Baltimore, police arrested Michael Stafford of the 600 block of North Glover Street in Baltimore for purportedly making a bomb threat to the city's police headquarters. Mayor Martin O'Malley called the telephone bomb threats at this point in the country's history "nothing short of treason."
In downtown Washington, federal officials have expanded the security perimeter around the White House from E to H streets and 15th to 17th streets.
The security clampdown caused problems for commuters throughout the region.
The most prominent traffic choke point was the 14th Street Bridge, closest to the Pentagon.
On Wednesday, military agencies and hospitals were placed at the highest security level, called "Threat Condition Delta." Entrance lines backed out onto public highways while incoming personnel identifications were checked. At Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., for instance, some employees were five hours late arriving at their jobs.
Yesterday, security was reduced to "Force Protection Condition Charlie," and personnel were admitted more quickly.
Still, there were slowdowns, explained Andre Matthews, 37, a limousine driver living in Fort Washington. Ordinarily, his drive in past Bolling Air Base takes 35 minutes. Yesterday, it took 50 minutes.
On Capitol Hill, white-shirted Capitol police were on foot, in view of one another, among House and Senate buildings, the Capitol, Library of Congress and U.S. Supreme Court. Most streets there were re-opened. Piles of ashes from flares marked entrances of streets that had been blocked.
Private security officers, wearing labeled shirts and badges, were mixed in with security officers at some government buildings — like the Ronald Reagan Building on 14th Street, north of Constitution Avenue.
Security there seemed to be the point of traffic backup yesterday morning across the 14th Street Bridge. Also contributing to the blockage was street construction on 14th one block north of the Reagan Building.
One security officer said what was happening there was happening at other government buildings. All employees had to present identification papers and possibly have their cars searched. It took time for them to get into job sites.
At a nearby dock, a security officer climbed into an open-bed truck and examined packages being delivered to the building that houses offices of the Customs Service, U.S. Agency for International Development and Environmental Protection Agency.
Traffic problems seemed most acute around the Pentagon, where rescue operations are still under way. Washington Boulevard may remain closed for a couple more weeks. Many commuters who exited from Interstate 395 onto Washington Boulevard must now get off on Glebe Road two miles away.
"Today was fine," said Mary Lauterbath, 46, who commutes by Maryland Rail Commuter train and Metro from Severna Park, but "I had a horrendous time the day of the event."
She was let off early because of the terrorist attacks, but MARC trains were canceled. She caught a bus to Baltimore and paid "a lot" for a cab home to be assured of the safety of her two children. But it was several hours before she could find out if her sister and brother-in-law in Manhattan were OK. Her sister, she explained, is a teacher of 4-year-olds, many of whose parents worked in the World Trade Center and who are still missing.
Brian DeBose contributed to this article, which was based in part on wire service reports.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide