- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

Heavily fortified financial institutions went about their business yesterday, with combat-armed police officers guarding targeted buildings on high alert of a terrorist attack in the Washington, New York City and New Jersey.

New York’s elite “Hercules” team of highly trained officers guarded Wall Street with automatic weapons, and trucks were banned from bridges and tunnels leading to the financial nerve center.

Concrete barriers now surround the Prudential building in Newark, N.J., and employees and visitors were searched before entering the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington. In New York, extra security measures are in place for the Citigroup Center and New York Stock Exchange.

“People around the world rightly have confidence in the U.S. financial markets,” said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow. “While we must always remain vigilant against terror, we will not be intimidated and prevented from enjoying our lives and exercising our freedoms.”

President Bush called the terrorist-alert level increase a “solemn reminder of the threat we continue to face.”

Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge raised the terrorist-alert level Sunday from “elevated” to “high” for just the areas around five specific buildings, though local officials went ahead and put all of Washington on high alert or “Code Orange,” likely until November at least.

“The information we have, as we’ve shared with the public before, is an expressed interest to try to undermine the democratic process,” Mr. Ridge told CBS yesterday.

“In addition to the many other pieces of information we’ve been able to accumulate in the past several months, we decided to alert America to these very specific targets or threats. But we have no way of determining if and when an attack will occur during this election process,” Mr. Ridge said.

Officers with high-powered weapons were stationed inside Metro stations in Washington, some streets were closed, and trucks traveling on 19th Street NW were searched by police officers and their drivers questioned. Surveillance cameras are being activated in key areas and officials say Washington will likely remain on “Orange” alert until after the November election.

The intelligence reports that triggered the alert show long-standing efforts by terrorists to use trucks filled with explosives or car bombs to attack the targets, and described by one senior intelligence official as “chilling in scope.”

The details include specifics such as security procedures and checks required at some buildings, whether security officials are armed, their schedules, uniforms, the number of pedestrians in the area, the number of employees in buildings, different types of nearby shops and escape routes.

“There is extensive information now available on the information they’ve been able to acquire regarding the other facilities in the area, whether they be religious establishments, schools, libraries, hospitals, police departments, fire departments,” the official said.

Some officials credit the primary source of information to the recent capture in Pakistan of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, also known as Abu Talha, an al Qaeda computer expert.

The information is said to have come from documents, computers, surveillance reports and sketches confiscated during the arrest.

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