State and city officials scrambled to reassure millions of New York City commuters after the prime minister of Iraq announced Thursday that his government had captured Islamic State militants who indicated the rogue terror group was planning attacks on New York City subways and the Paris Métro.
Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) responded with symbolic subway rides, each saying separately that there was “no specific, credible” threat to America’s largest municipal transportation system.
To reassure New Yorkers, both said the city’s sprawling subway system, which transports more than 4 million commuters every day, would have an increased presence of “heavy arms” and military-style patrols. This will include the New York City Police Department’s “Hercules” units, who carry machine guns and wear Kevlar helmets and are accompanied by bomb-sniffing dogs. Officials also said they would be enhancing their surveillance on the some 7,000 security cameras spread throughout the city.
On Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told reporters outside the United Nations headquarters in New York that his government uncovered an Islamic State plot to attack transportation systems in the United States and Europe after the arrest of French and American fighters for the terror group that has conquered wide swaths of territory in Iraq and in Syria.
“Today while I'm here, I'm receiving accurate reports from Baghdad that there were arrests of a few elements and there were networks from inside Iraq to have attacks ... on metros of Paris and US," Mr. Abadi said. “They are not Iraqis. Some of them are French, some of them are Americans. But they are in Iraq.”
The security scare came just a day after Governor Cuomo held a press conference at ground zero with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and announced a series of new heightened security measures that both states are undertaking as the US and its allies continue to escalate their bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
With the 9/11 Memorial as a symbolic backdrop on Wednesday, Cuomo called such heightened security measures the “new normal” for the region, announcing that the visible presence of heavy arms and increased bag and vehicle checks would be forthcoming.
In another symbolic gesture Thursday, the governor joined N.Y.C. public-transportation chief Thomas Prendergast and took the subway from the World Trade Center to Penn Station, where Cuomo told New Yorkers, “I'm riding the system, and so should every New Yorker." He also said, "There is no credible information about any specific threats to the New York City subway system.”
Hours later, Mayor de Blasio and New York Police Commissioner William Bratton also took the subway from City Hall to Union Square to reassure commuters.
“With the evening rush hour about to begin, I have a simple message for all New Yorkers,” de Blasio said in front of a high-traffic subway stop. “There is no immediate credible threat to our subway system. I say that with confidence, people should go about their business as they normally would.”
Commissioner Bratton reminded New Yorkers that the city has already been under the most intense security alert this week as more than 100 world leaders, including President Obama, were attending the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly, as well as the UN Climate Summit.
Even so, Bratton said, the city was responding to the Iraqi prime minister’s statement with even more security measures. In addition to the increase in Hercules teams in many of the city’s 450 subway stations, local precincts stepped up their patrols on subway cars throughout the system.
“We err always on the side of caution and preparation,” Bratton said.
The increased militarized police presence and enhanced surveillance should reassure New Yorkers, de Blasio and Cuomo both said, emphasizing that the transportation system was not in imminent danger.
“Terrorists want us to live in fear,” de Blasio said Thursday. “We refuse to live in fear, and we at the same time will be watching 24/7 for any indication for a problem that we have to address in a specific manner.”