- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Anti-terrorist defenses will be on highest alert for tonight's New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square after the FBI abruptly asked for public help in finding five "armed and dangerous" Middle Easterners thought to be in New York.
"Some people will be inconvenienced. Some people will be annoyed. But that's the price we pay for living in a dangerous world," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday as he announced plans to thwart any terrorist effort to exploit the Big Apple celebration.
Seeking to ease fears that might decrease turnout, Mr. Bloomberg promised to spend the entire evening at the focal point, dining at a Times Square restaurant, attending a Broadway show and remaining in public view until the 77-foot descent of the ceremonial crystal ball signals the start of 2003.
Photos of five wanted men who, the FBI says, entered the country illegally Christmas Eve were distributed to New York City's 41,000 police officers, Commissioner Raymond Kelly said yesterday.
The department plans a show of force with as many as 7,000 officers and "a heavy-weapons Hercules" force on the streets by 4 p.m., when traffic is shut where Broadway and Seventh Avenue cross to form Times Square.
Commissioner Kelly said counterterrorism snipers will be positioned on rooftops while ground forces deploy the department's "Archangel package," including bomb squads and the wherewithal to deal with chemical or biological attacks.
The department did not say whether Times Square officers would be equipped with hand-held nuclear-detection devices as they were last year to alert them to any radioactive weapons.
Michael P. O'Looney, chief spokesman for the New York police, said counterterrorist efforts were heightened because of the warnings but that overall New Year's Eve security was being tightened weeks ago.
"They're wanted for questioning, not for any specific threat, but [FBI agents] want to talk to them. There's no particular reason to believe they're in New York," Commissioner Kelly said.
However, Reuters news agency reported that an official said the five photos and names were obtained during an investigation of trafficking in stolen passports and focused on New York because of information from at least one intelligence source.
The FBI posted photos on its Web site www.fbi.gov but said all five accompanying names and birth dates may be "fictitious." The five wanted men are Abid Noraiz Ali, 25; Iftikhar Khozmai Ali, 21; Mustafa Khan Owasi, 33; Adil Pervez, 19; and Akbar Jamal, 28. No nationality was specified for any of the men.
"We want to know why they are here. We want to question them and find out more," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters in Crawford, Texas, where President Bush was vacationing.
The FBI said it has "no specific information [of] any potential terrorist activities" but said it circulated the alarm after consulting with U.S. Customs, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Transportation Security Administration, which protects commercial airliners and airports.
A TSA spokesman had no information on the consultation with the FBI but did say new baggage-security procedures will take effect on schedule at midnight at all U.S. airports.
At a news conference yesterday in New York, Gov. George E. Pataki told reporters he had spoken with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge several times in recent days and "there are no specific threats to New York that I have been advised of."
The "seeking information" alert was the FBI's fourth in 2002 on terrorist threats. As of yesterday, agents had not located any of the 19 persons included on the three earlier alerts. "These individuals should be considered armed and dangerous," warns the FBI Web page on which the alerts are posted.
Asked what the FBI was advising for New Year's gatherings, spokeswoman Julie Miller said, "At this point, there is no special guidance, no change in the threat level, nothing."
The federal threat-level indicator yesterday was set at yellow for "elevated." It has rested at that level since its inception on March 12 except for a change to orange, or "high," Sept. 10-24 during observances of the first anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks.
While New York police were preparing such obvious force that Mr. Bloomberg called in advance for patience, Midtown boosters focused on plans to set a world record for synchronized bell ringing by 50,000 spectators, led by members of Riverside Church. That will be accompanied by a singalong of "Joy to the World," the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" and the 1970s disco song "Ring My Bell."
Tonight's crowd is estimated to be upward of 500,000 people, and Commissioner Kelly predicted that it will fill the square and main avenues from 43rd Street to 59th Street. Most spectators were expected to be in place by 6 p.m., when the ball is lighted and raised atop the flagpole at One Times Square.
The ball drops 77 feet in a midnight tradition that celebrates its 100th anniversary next year. Mr. Bloomberg and paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve will preside over the countdown and ceremonial dropping of the lighted 1,070-pound Waterford crystal ball.
Revelers are banned from bringing backpacks, alcohol, bags or boxes. All trash cans and mailboxes were being removed last night from area streets. People entering the "viewing pens" once they open this afternoon must pass a metal detector, submit to a search and may not return if they leave, Commissioner Kelly said.
New York banned fireworks on Dec. 31, 2001, when the city was still in shock after September 11, but pyrotechnics resume tonight with a two-minute display in Times Square and fireworks shows in Central Park and Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

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