Police step up security in U.S. following terror threat


NEW YORK, AP

Financial employees threaded through concrete barriers and around machine gun-toting police officers as they returned to work Monday following a government warning that terrorists may be planning to strike “iconic” financial institutions.

Police closed several streets in midtown Manhattan and banned trucks from bridges and tunnels leading to Wall Street after the government described possible threats to businesses and banks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Newark, New Jersey.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged residents to go about their normal business, much as they have done during prior terror warnings. To show their confidence in the city’s response to the warning, Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki rang the opening bell at the stock exchange.

“America and New Yorkers are pulling together here, and they’re not going to be cowed,” Bloomberg said.

Stocks fell only slightly Monday as investors assessed the warnings. The Dow Jones industrial average was off 16.74, or 0.2 percent, in the opening minutes of trading.

Workers on Wall Street — just blocks from the World Trade Center site — showed little concern, saying terror alerts and heavy security have become a part of life.

“You gotta go to work; you can’t stay home all day,” said Daniel Brown, 26, as he arrived at the New York Stock Exchange.

The government named the stock exchange, along with Citigroup Inc. headquarters in New York, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank buildings in Washington, D.C., and the Prudential Financial Inc. building in Newark as possible targets.

At the Prudential building in Newark, workers unloaded concrete barriers in front and behind the 24 story office building, and police armed themselves with assault rifles.

“I’m a little nervous given the 9-11 situation, but I’m confident Prudential’s doing everything they can to ensure our safety,” said Tracy Swistak, 27, an analyst in the company’s international finance department.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams put the entire city on an orange alert, although the Homeland Security Department has not officially raised the threat level outside financial-sector buildings.

Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles H. Ramsey said officers would increase patrols and the department will boost the number of checks of vehicles on city roadways. Bomb-sniffing dog teams were being assembled to sweep the area, and closed-circuit security cameras were being turned on around the World Bank-IMF, Ramsey said.

“We will be greatly enhancing our presence along with the private security that’s already there,” he said.

Workers at the 59-story Citigroup Center were funneled through an entrance where guards checked identification and examined bags. Extra police teams were visible around the building, the third-largest in midtown Manhattan.

“It’s definitely a scary building to be working in when we’re a big target,” said Chip Persons, 35, who works on the 24th floor.

Trucks and vans were forbidden to enter the city through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the Holland Tunnel, which lead to lower Manhattan from Brooklyn and New Jersey, respectively. Trucks were instead diverted to the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge in upper Manhattan, police said.

“It’s seriously anxiety provoking,” Robert O’Donnell said as he took a Metro-North train from Connecticut to his job next to the Citigroup Center building in Manhattan.

The marketing executive acknowledged having second thoughts about going to work, but concluded, “You can’t live like that.”

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said police were advising other large businesses to safeguard their heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

On Sunday night he accompanied police officials from the counterterrorism bureau and the intelligence division to brief the security directors of 13 major financial institutions: Morgan Stanley, Nasdaq, American Stock Exchange, Lehman Bros., Goldman Sachs, Federal Reserve Bank, Bear Stearns, Wachovia, AIG, Citigroup, MetLife, JP Morgan Chase and the New York Stock Exchange.