Authorities stepped up mass transit security Thursday after receiving what city officials called a credible threat that the New York City subway may be the target of a terrorist attack in the coming days. But Homeland Security officials in Washington downplayed the threat, saying it is of “doubtful credibility.”
Despite the differing takes on the seriousness of the threat, New York officials mobilized police officers to begin looking through commuters’ bags, brief cases, baby strollers and luggage.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the threat originated overseas and called it the most specific terrorist threat New York officials had received to date. No one in New York has been arrested or detained, Bloomberg said.
A law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the threat was “specific to place, time and method,” and that the method is bombing.
“We have never had before a specific threat to our subway system,” Bloomberg said at a news conference, adding that he planned to take the subway home Thursday night. “Its importance was enhanced above the normal level by the detail that was available to us from intelligence sources.”
In Washington, Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke said the agency received what it called a “specific but doubtful threat” to the subway system.
“The intelligence community has concluded this information to be of doubtful credibility,” Knocke said. “We shared this information early on with state and local authorities in New York.”
Knocke refused to elaborate on why the intelligence was considered doubtful, nor would he comment on whether it was linked to an arrest Wednesday by in Iraq as reported by CNN. Knocke said he assumed New York City’s public warning was made “out of an abundance of caution.”
Federal law enforcement officials “do not believe there was any ability to carry out the plot and have not been able to corroborate any of the facts of the plot,” a government official in Washington said. This account was confirmed by a second government official.
Both officials said the plot that has been described was unusually specific, although they declined to provide any details. They both spoke only on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
Some commuters took the threat in stride.
Paul Radtke, 45, of Hoboken, N.J., said he has heard similar types of warnings before and finds it hard to take them all seriously.
“Unless it’s something dramatic that’s happening, I’ve got to go to work,” Radtke said after getting off a subway train at Penn Station. He said the only travel habit he is changing is trying not to make eye contact with police officers so they won’t search his bag.
An estimated 4.5 million passengers ride the New York subway on an average weekday. The system has more than 468 subway stations. In July, the city began random subway searches following the London train bombings.
New York’s security level remained at orange, the same level it has stayed at since Sept. 11. Bloomberg said there was no indication that the threat was linked to this month’s Jewish holidays.
Associated Press Writers Mark Sherman and Devlin Barret contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.