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Officials Aim To Assure Public After N.Y. Blast

Experts warn against complacency as police step up security measures in major US cities

By Ron SchererStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor. Marshall Ingwerson in Washington and Lucia Mouat in New York contributed to this report. / March 1, 1993


NEW York's World Trade Center is a symbol of the wealth and global reach of the United States. It is the world's largest building and houses financial exchanges, investment banks, and government offices.

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The 110-story twin towers were an ambitious target for what now may be the first major act of terrorism in years inside the United States.

Although the New York police received 19 calls taking responsibility for a suspected bomb, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said none of the calls were delivered prior to the blast, which took place on Feb. 26. The first call came over one hour after the explosion, which had already been widely covered by the news media. As a result, officials remain cautious as to the cause and motivation behind the blast.

Given the large scale of the target and the bomb, which smashed through six floors in the lower part of the building, the serious casualties were few. But the challenge now is to prevent similar attacks in the US by imitators.

Terrorism experts are trying to fathom who could have set off the blast, which killed five people, hospitalized at least a thousand, and led to the forced evacuation of the 50,000 workers.

Although officials have not ruled out a crazed individual, experts doubted one person could be responsible.

"Something like this takes a proficiency with explosives and someone who knows what they are doing," says Clifton Bryant, a professor of sociology at Virginia Tech University and founder of the Scientific Journal of Deviant Behavior. Mr. Bryant says it would not be surprising if this blast were followed up by another attempt.

Terrorism experts warn against a complacency in the US that terrorism occurs only abroad.

"The main message is that we are not immune," says Yonah Alexander, director of the Institute for Studies in International Terrorism at the State University of New York.

While the Federal Bureau of Investigation and New York City police are still trying to piece together the details of the criminal act, terrorism experts believe the US now must increase its defenses against future acts.

"My main concern is that this could be the beginning of a trend," says Jerrold Post, a professor of political psychology and a terrorism expert at George Washington University, adding that in the past terrorist groups have tried to emulate other acts of violence. A terrorist act, he says, both "emboldens" and arouses envy among other groups.

This fact has not been lost on government officials. At a press conference on Saturday, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said, "You will have heightened security in every way it can be heightened."

Jim Fox, the FBI's New York director, said the agency would alert the mayors of other cities, such as Chicago and Los Angeles. And Mr. Kelly, New York's police chief, said the city would be working with the private sector to beef up security as was done during operation Desert Storm.

GOVERNOR Cuomo told New Yorkers that the best answer to the bombers "is to find out who did it, apprehend the people who did it, and then punish them as your law allows you to. It is essential that we discover the person or persons who did it ... to let people know you cannot do this with impunity in this place."

Many experts believe the bomb originated overseas.

"The US has enough enemies abroad," says Mr. Alexander, who is also a professor at George Washington University.

In fact, terrorism experts calculate that between 25 and 40 percent of all terrorist incidents in recent years have been aimed at American targets.