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D.C., N.Y. on Alert Over ‘Credible’ Terror Threat Around 9/11 Anniversary

September 9, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
From Times Square in New York City to the Metro system in Washington, D.C., police were in full force after word of a new terror threat, which counterterrorism officials called "credible," but unconfirmed. Judy Woodruff reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The nation faced new tension over terror today. It stemmed from a possible plot timed around the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and aimed at the same cities.

From Times Square in New York City to the subway system in Washington, police were plentiful today. They had already ramped up staffing levels for the 9/11 weekend, then increased them again after word of the new threat. Counterterror officials were said to be chasing what they call credible, but unconfirmed intelligence about a possible car bomb plot that surfaced Wednesday night.

On ABC this morning, Vice President Joe Biden said there’s still no sign an attack is imminent.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: There’s no certitude. We don’t have — we don’t have the smoking gun. But we do have talk about using a car bomb.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC News: But we do know that individuals entered the United States with the intent to launch a car bomb?

JOSEPH BIDEN: … have been told that that was an intention to get people into the United States to do that. We — from a credible source, but we do not have confirmation of that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Various news accounts said there might be three suspects, possibly including an American citizen. They may have traveled to the U.S. from Afghanistan or Pakistan.

The FBI’s James McJunkin spoke last night in Washington.

JAMES MCJUNKIN, FBI Washington Field Office: That there are scores of people at this moment at FBI headquarters and a number of the DHS components that are together scrubbing through mounds of data, looking for potential leads for individuals that may — where suspicion may arise around them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Reuters, citing an unnamed U.S. official, reported the plot may be linked to Ayman Al-Zawahri. He took command of al-Qaida after Osama bin Laden was killed in May.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to confirm the link today in New York.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Al-Qaida again is seeking to harm Americans and, in particular, to target New York and Washington. This shouldn’t surprise any of us. It is a continuing reminder of the stakes in our struggle against violent extremism, no matter who propagates it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the 9/11 anniversary presents a prime time for attack, as the president’s counterterror adviser, John Brennan, told me earlier this week on the NewsHour.

JOHN BRENNAN, U.S. deputy National Security adviser: We know from the material that was recovered from the bin Laden compound that bin Laden was looking at the 10th anniversary of 9/11 as an opportunity to strike yet again at the U.S. homeland. Our intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies have been very, very diligent in looking at all the different potential actors out there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There was no change ordered in the nation’s terror threat level, but police in New York were especially focused on bridges and tunnels. They set up vehicle checkpoints and baggage checks.

At the same time, Mayor Michael Bloomberg rode the subway to work in a bid to reassure commuters. And he encouraged New Yorkers to go about their lives as usual.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I) mayor of New York: You don’t want al-Qaida or any other organization — I don’t know if this is al-Qaida or some other terrorist organization — you don’t want them to take away the freedoms without firing a shot. It’s just ridiculous.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Officials insisted President Obama isn’t changing his plans either. He will mark Sunday’s anniversary by attending ceremonies at all three of the 9/11 attack sites.