U.S. raises alert level amid ‘copycat’ concerns
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States raised its
terrorism alert level from “elevated” to “high” for buses,
subways and trains on Thursday amid concerns of copycat attacks
following deadly bombings in London.
Federal officials said they swiftly contacted local
authorities and urged commuters to be alert after four blasts
in London killed at least 37 people. British Prime Minister
Tony Blair said it was an apparent terrorist attack coinciding
with a meeting of Group of Eight leaders in Scotland.
“We feel that, at least in the short term, we should raise
the (alert) level here because, obviously, we’re concerned
about the possibility of a copycat attack,” Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff told a news conference.
He said he had no specific, credible information of an
imminent attack but that al Qaeda and its affiliates remained
bent on targeting Europe and the United States. Chertoff did
not say who he thought was behind the London blasts.
President Bush, in Scotland for the G8 session, said he
told homeland security officials to be extra vigilant as
Americans headed to work. White House spokesman Scott McClellan
said Bush agreed to heighten the alert level at about 9:30 a.m.
(1330 GMT) — more than five hours after the blasts.
“The war on terror goes on,” Bush said.
Initial reaction in U.S. cities, especially those affected
by the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked airliner attacks, was more one
of sympathy than alarm. Outside the British Embassy in
Washington a man held up a placard that read: “Today we are all
Muslim Americans offered their condolences, and the
Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
advocacy group condemned the “barbaric” attacks.
After initially saying the U.S. alert level was unchanged,
the Department of Homeland Security hiked the terror alert
level to high, or orange, the second-highest category of five,
for railway and subway systems. The alert level was also raised
for intra-city bus lines. Airline traffic was unaffected.
U.S. officials stepped up security in a number of cities,
from Washington, Boston and New York to Chicago, Houston and
Los Angeles. Bomb-sniffing dogs and security sweeps were seen
at some subway platforms, while police cars patrolled outside
stations and officers searched buses.
U.S. stocks slid on word of the attacks, before recovering
most of their early losses.
“This is not an occasion for undue anxiety. It’s an
occasion for a sense of sympathy and solidarity for our allies
over in Britain,” Chertoff told the news conference.
More than 16 million people use mass transit in the United
States on an average weekday, including travel on bus, subway
and commuter rail lines. The biggest system is in New York
followed by Los Angeles and Chicago. Another 68,000 people use
Amtrak, which operates 300 trains in 46 states.
Amtrak, the national passenger railroad, said it raised its
security threat level “strictly as a precaution.” U.S. freight
railroads also urged employees to boost vigilance.
Washington police said security had been increased around
some key buildings and a spokesman said a Joint Operations
Command Center, only activated for large-scale demonstrations,
parades, or emergency situations, was in force.
U.S. officials including the intelligence czar’s office and
the FBI said pledged to help Britain deal with the attacks and
find out who was responsible.
The U.S. reaction was a step higher than after the March
11, 2004, train bombings in Spain that killed almost 200. Those
attacks did not lead to a raising of the color-coded terror
threat but transportation systems across the country were
advised to be on higher alert.
The last time the Department of Homeland Security raised
the threat level was in November 2004, for three months, for
the financial services sector in New York, New Jersey, and
Washington from elevated or code yellow to high.
Authorities in New York, where the 2001 twin plane attacks
killed almost 3,000 people, urged vigilance, and by mid-morning
security was noticeably tighter with extra armed police
patrolling subways stations.
In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley said he had “heightened
security throughout the city, especially in the downtown area
and our mass transit system.”
Miami Police Chief John Timoney put his staff on alert soon
after he saw the blasts on television at 6 a.m. (1000 GMT).
The domestic aviation system operated normally and no
security-related delays or incidents were reported at major