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NY hikes security on dirty bomb Internet chatter

Reuters | August 11, 2007
Mark Egan and Christine Kearney

New York police stepped up security throughout Manhattan and at bridges and tunnels on Friday in response to an Internet report -- which authorities said they could not verify -- that al Qaeda might be plotting to detonate a dirty bomb in the city.

New York City police said in a statement the threat against the city was an "unverified radiological threat," stressed the increased security was precautionary and said the city's alert status for an attack was unchanged at "orange."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stressed there was no reason to believe this threat was any different from countless others since the September 11 attacks.

One law enforcement source told Reuters that authorities were responding to Internet chatter reported on Israeli Web site www.debka.com, but that the information reported there could not be verified.

That site reported that there has been a rush of electronic chatter on al Qaeda sites, one saying there would be an attack "by means of trucks loaded with radio-active material against America's biggest city and financial nerve center."

Another al Qaeda message mentioned New York, Los Angeles and Miami as targets, the Jerusalem-based DEBKAfile Internet news site reported.

The New York Police Department said in a statement it had increased the deployment of radiological sensors on vehicles, boats and helicopters, and had set up vehicle checkpoints in lower Manhattan's financial district and at bridges and tunnels.

Police confirmed the increased security was in response to receiving information that a dirty bomb may go off on Friday evening around 34th street in Manhattan -- a neighborhood with the Empire State Building, New York City's tallest building, Madison Square Garden and Macy's department store.

'NO CREDIBLE INFORMATION'

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington said the threat to New York was "unsubstantiated" and there was "no credible information telling us there is an imminent threat to the homeland at this time."

New York has remained on an orange alert -- the second highest such level, below red -- since the September 11, 2001, attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center.

New York police played down the increased security.

"It is stressed that these deployments are strictly precautionary and not the result of any verified threat," NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said in a statement.

Bloomberg also sought to soothe New Yorkers.

"Earlier this evening, the NYPD began taking several public precautionary measures visible to New Yorkers to guard against an unverified threat that was found on the Internet," he said.

"These actions are like those that the NYPD takes every day -- precautions against potential but unconfirmed threats that may never materialize," Bloomberg said.

At Herald Square, the heart of the 34th Street area, late on Friday evening, there was no visible sign of increased police security as New Yorkers went about their regular activities.

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