- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

The federal government increased the threat level to “high” for specific financial institutions in New York City, Washington and New Jersey yesterday, citing intelligence about a terrorist plot to strike with car or truck bombs.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said trucks would be banned starting today from the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, the Associated Press reported.

The Holland Tunnel, which runs from New Jersey into Lower Manhattan, would be closed to all inbound commercial traffic also beginning today, said Tony Ciavolella, spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge held a press conference in Washington to announce that officials had obtained “new and unusually specific information about where al Qaeda would like to attack.”

He named the following as the most likely targets:

• The Citicorp building and the New York Stock Exchange in New York City.

• The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank buildings in Washington.

• The Prudential Plaza in Newark, N.J.

“Based on what we’ve gleaned so far, the preferred method of attack or what’s being suggested in the reporting is car and truck bombs,” Mr. Ridge said.

Mr. Ridge said the targets were “significant institutions that relate to our leadership role in the international economy,” but said even attacks on key institutions cannot significantly disrupt world financial markets.

“The financial-services industry since 9/11 has built in systems of protection … that help regulate and help control the equity markets,” he said, adding that “even the destruction of a single building is not going to undermine the greatest and strongest economy in the world.”

He said the information that prompted the threat-alert level increase was “the result of offensive intelligence and military operations overseas, as well as strong partnerships with our allies around the world, such as Pakistan.”

However, he declined to elaborate on the origin of the intelligence, beyond saying it was drawn from “multiple sources” in multiple locations.

One U.S. official told the Reuters news agency that the information was collected in the past 24 to 36 hours. It was not clear whether the intelligence was linked to the recent arrest of a top al Qaeda operative in Pakistan.

Pakistani authorities on Friday announced the capture of Tanzanian-born Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who is wanted by the United States in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in the East African countries of Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 persons.

The decision to raise the threat alert level to high or “Code Orange” for the financial-sector targets while keeping the level at elevated or “Code Yellow” for the rest of the nation marks a shift in tactic by the Department of Homeland Security.

Mr. Ridge said the targeted use of the five-level threat system — severe or “Code Red” is the highest — came as a result of the quality of the new intelligence being rare and “alarming in both the amount and specificity.”

New York City has remained at “Code Orange” since the advisory system was put in place in March 2002. Nationwide, the level has been raised five times to Code Orange, then shifted back to Code Yellow. It has never reached Code Red.

Yesterday’s announcement came as authorities in New York continued preparing for the intensely tight security expected at the Republican National Convention, which begins Aug. 30.

Mr. Ridge made no reference to the fact that the financial targets he named also have been among key targets of large anti-globalization demonstrations in U.S. cities during the past five years.

Mr. Ridge said senior leadership of the Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with the White House, CIA, FBI, and other federal agencies, has been in contact with the governors and the mayors in New York, Newark and Washington. Coordination also is under way with executive leadership of the companies that own the targets.

“We have told them that at this time there is no information that indicates a specific time for these attacks beyond the period leading up to our national elections,” Mr. Ridge said. “Of course, just because we know where, but not precisely when, that does not mean that we cannot take pre-emptive action.”

Mr. Ridge said protective measures at each facility would not be the same. Among the measures that could be expected, he said, are special buffer zones around buildings to stop unauthorized cars or trucks, restrictions to underground parking, ramped-up security checks at certain building entrances and an overall expansion of police presence.

The New York Stock Exchange made plans to have Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg ring the opening bell, and Citigroup Inc. told workers at its landmark skyscraper that extra steps were taken to try to protect them from any terrorist attack.

Officials at each of the workplaces identified as terrorist targets said they planned to conduct business as usual today despite the heightened alert.

In Washington yesterday, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams urged people to go about their daily business, and Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said the city is working with IMF and World Bank security on a plan, but said the sites will not be closed.

Sean Salai and Tim Burn contributed to this report.

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