The Jewish community faces no specific threat as Passover approaches, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told local Jewish leaders on Tuesday.
But New York City faces the continued threat of an al Qaeda-linked terror attack, likely aimed at mass transit, he said at the police department’s annual pre-Passover security briefing.
“We’re tracking this threat very closely,” said the commissioner. “We rely on an alert public to be our eyes and ears.”
Kelly said that as a matter of standard procedure, patrols in heavily Jewish areas would be increased during the holiday, which begins Monday night, March 29. Some areas may see extra officers added to a shift while others may have a designated house-of-worship patrol car checking in on synagogues, according to David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
Kelly and Mitchell D. Silber, the director of analysis of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, outlined four recent terror plots against New York and London, only one of which came to fruition. That attack occurred in July 2005, resulting in the deaths of 52 people in London. There have since been three similar plots foiled by authorities, one in London and two in New York, with similar patterns: All the would-be perpetrators were raised in the United Kingdom or the U.S. and all had spent time in Pakistan or Afghanistan. In 2008, a Queens-born man was arrested in Pakistan and charged with providing information to al Qaeda about the Long Island Rail Road.
Silber said such recruits who go to South Asia to engage American forces are often told to return to the West to carry out “martyrdom operations.” He screened a video in which Adam Gadahn, an American-born al Qaeda spokesman, encouraged acts against “symbols of capitalism.” Gadahn noted in the video that even “apparently unsuccessful attacks on Western targets hurt the enemy by straining his resources and sending his corporations into bankruptcy.”
Silber noted that terror plots typically unfold rapidly.
“Ramzi Yousef entered the United States [in 1992] and within three months he was buying chemicals,” he said of the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. “The 9/11 hijackers came back from Afghanistan and within weeks were researching flight schools in the U.S. When these individuals go overseas to plot, it’s just a question of time before they seem to act. There is a limited time to detect and disrupt these plots because these individuals generally hit the ground running.”
Asked by an audience member about the impact of the budget crisis on security, Kelly said that even with the department’s ranks down by 6,000 since 2001 and expected to drop by another 2,000 this year, he was committed to keeping counterterrorism forces at their current strength.
“We have not diminished our resources,” he said. “We have over 1,000 people each day doing the heavy lifting. We’re going to do everything we can to maintain that level.”
Those officers are routinely spot checking baggage in the subway and mass transit centers as well as conducting heavily armed patrols there, Silber said.
In addition to al Qaeda, the NYPD is concerned about a possible attack by pro-Iranian forces.
In September of 2008, officials told Jewish leaders at a pre-High Holidays briefing that a team of detectives would go to Buenos Aires, the site of devastating bombings against the Jewish community and Israeli consulate there, to assess the likelihood of a similar strike against targets in New York.
Argentine investigators linked the Buenos Aires bombings to pro-Iranian operatives. The detectives’ intention was to determine whether an attack by the U.S. or Israel on Iran’s nuclear sites would prompt a retaliatory attack in New York.
“We continue to watch events unfold in the Middle East vis a vis Iran and Israel very closely,” Silber told The Jewish Week after his briefing. “It remains an ongoing concern that something may happen in Iran and there will be reverberations in New York.”
Pollock of the JCRC said 300 nonprofit organizations in New York State have applied for grants from the Department of Homeland Security’s target-hardening program, the most applications since the program began five years ago. The grants are for up to $75,000. The government has allocated $19 million for New York.
Last year 80 percent of the grant awardees went to Jewish organizations.
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