WASHINGTON (AP) — Some Washington-area residents said Friday that they aren’t especially fearful — though cautious as always –as federal officials investigate what they have called credible but unconfirmed information about a possible terrorist attack on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11.
Homeland Security officials said Thursday evening they were investigating a detailed al-Qaida car bomb plot aimed at bridges or tunnels in New York or Washington. Unattended cars parked in suspicious locations or near critical infrastructure will be towed, officials in both cities said.
“We don’t take this threat lightly. We take it very seriously, but we are ready for it,” said James McJunkin, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office.
McJunkin said his agents aren’t seeking out any particular individuals but were pursuing tips and leads and analyzing patterns about unusual behavior.
“There’s no named individual,” he said.
Michael McCabe, a U.S. Department of Energy employee, said he had heard about the threat on the radio and television when he woke up Friday.
“There’s been so much speculation that something would be planned that it wasn’t a surprise, it’s certainly not something I was looking forward to but psychologically was prepared for,” McCabe said. He added that the news wouldn’t change his plans.
“There’s nothing that I can be proactive on other than just aware of the surroundings,” he said.
District of Columbia Police Chief Cathy Lanier said officers would be working 12-hour shifts for the near future. She said in a written statement that the scheduling changes were “part of our plan” and that “maintaining a certain sense of unpredictability is essential to the success of any security plan.”
The chief told AP earlier in the week that every sworn officer would be working throughout the weekend. The department has roughly 3,800 officers.
All Sept. 11 commemorative events will go on as planned, Lanier said.
In New York, the police department is deploying thousands of extra officers and will form a zone around the World Trade Center site for a Sunday observance that Obama and former President George W. Bush plan to attend. There also will be hundreds of surveillance cameras monitoring the site. Police in cities including Houston and Phoenix also will be doing more patrols.
Metro Transit in Washington and its neighboring suburbs will also have additional patrols and K-9 units but has not received any specific or credible threat, said spokesman Dan Stessel.
Cheryl Francis, of Chantilly, Va., said she commutes over the Roosevelt bridge into Washington every day and didn’t plan to change her habits. Francis said she had been at work in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, and believes the country is more aware and alert now. She said people need to continue living their lives, but also be aware of what is going on around them.
“It’s almost like sleeping with one eye open,” she said.
On Thursday night, dozens of travelers were lined up at Union Station to take Amtrak and commuter trains home from Washington.
There was no visible increase in security for those boarding trains after news of a security threat, though some passengers said they had noticed police officers and dogs earlier.
On Friday, 31-year-old Janaya Williams was waiting for a train to Philadelphia at Union Station. She hadn’t even heard of the threat yet.
“I watch SpongeBob all day,” said Williams, the mother of a 2- and 4-year-old. She said she prays for her family daily, and that’s all she can really do.
“I figure if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen,” she said of the possibility of a terror attack.
Maria Rothman was more frightened. She had changed her travel plans to take an earlier train at 6:30 a.m., hoping it would be a less inviting terror target. She wound up oversleeping and was waiting for a 10:20 train to Philadelphia. From there, she was headed about 45 minutes outside the city to be with her fiance. It can be difficult to go about business as usual, Rothman said.
“I embrace as a concept you got to go ahead and live your life, except that it’s hard,” she said.
The terrorist attacks have particular resonance in Washington, as one of the hijacked planes departed from Washington Dulles International Airport and soon after crashed into the Pentagon.
Lanier said in an interview that the security in place this weekend has been necessary for at least the last 10 years. In D.C., suspicious packages and vehicles are reported and searched constantly throughout the city — evidence of a heightened public awareness produced at least in part by the terrorist attacks.
“It’s not a good idea for everybody to relax after this anniversary is over. This is a way of life for us now,” Lanier
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)