March 30, 2010

Cities tighten security after Moscow bombing

U.S. transit officials take precautions after suicide bombers in Russia kill 38 in a crowded subway.

By MEGAN K. SCOTT The Associated Press

NEW YORK - U.S. transit agencies beefed up security as a precaution Monday after the double suicide bombing in Moscow's subway system, sending more police into stations and officers to conduct random inspections of rail yards.

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A counterterrorism officer stationed at Grand Central Station in New York keeps his eye on commuters at the subway turnstiles on Monday,

The Associated Press

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In New York, caravans of police vehicles were dispatched to transit hubs, and officers assigned to subways overnight were held in place so they overlapped with the day tour. Special units distinguished by their special black uniforms, helmets and body armor also were assigned to transit facilities.

In Washington, D.C., Metro police conducted random inspections of stations and rail yards, officials said. Atlanta's public transit system said its police department increased the number of officers and patrols throughout the system.

Russian authorities said two women blew themselves up in Moscow on Monday in a subway jam-packed with rush-hour passengers, killing more than 35 people. They blamed the carnage on rebels from the Caucasus region.

The federal government did not immediately make any recommendations for increased security at mass transit systems, but authorities were monitoring the situation, a U.S. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Caucasus Islamic separatists tend to be focused on targets in the region, primarily Russia, and are not generally considered a threat to U.S. domestic interests.

"The actual Chechen rebels generally don't care about the U.S. one way or the other," said Jeffrey Mankoff, an adjunct fellow for Russian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "They are mainly interested in what's happening in Russia."

Subways have been an attractive target for terrorists, supplying them with many victims in a tight space and fairly limited security measures, he said.

London and Madrid have experienced terrorist attacks on their transit systems. Last month, Colorado resident and Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty as the leader of a plot to bomb the New York subway system.

"The next frontier of Homeland Security will be on how you can tighten up rail security like airline security is tightened," said Raymond Tanter, who teaches "Terrorism and Proliferation" at Georgetown University. Volume is one of the biggest problems, he said; the Moscow subway system carries about 7 million passengers on an average work day, making it difficult to examine each passenger.

In Chicago, police and transit workers watched closely for any suspicious activity or behavior, said transit authority spokeswoman Kim Myles. Representatives of transit agencies in Boston and Philadelphia said they believed their normal security practices were vigilant enough to protect the riding public.

The New York Police Department issued a statement saying it was increasing coverage of the city's subway system as a precaution "in response to the Moscow bombings."

New York City "did ramp up our coverage a little bit this morning" after officials learned of the Moscow bombing, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"We change it every day, and for security reasons obviously we're not going to tell anybody what we're doing," Bloomberg said.

In Manhattan, where the public has grown accustomed to increased security after the 2001 terror attacks, many people said they hadn't even noticed the added measures.

"I don't think it poses a threat here now," said Carlos Rivera, 44, of Newark, N.J., who commutes to New York City daily and works in sales.

John Villegas, who said he used to work near the World Trade Center, did sense the heightened security. "I'm a little wary," Villegas, 48, said at Pennsylvania Station as he waited for a train home to Woodbridge, N.J. "I do not feel safe right now. It's a little scary."

 

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