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Security Stepped Up At Financial Institutions Possibly Targeted by Al-Qaida

In a Sunday news conference, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge identified the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup Inc. headquarters in New York, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank buildings in Washington, D.C., and the Prudential Financial Inc. building in Newark as possible al-Qaida targets.

Ridge raised the terror threat level for financial institutions in those cities to orange, or high alert — the second highest level on the government’s five-point spectrum. Elsewhere, he said, the alert would remain at yellow, or elevated.

A cache of recently obtained information indicated that al-Qaida operatives have undertaken meticulous preparations to case the five specific buildings. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge described information on five possible targets as alarmingly specific, but said the department had no information that an attack was imminent.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki showed their confidence in the city’s response to the terror threat by ringing the opening bell at the stock exchange.

“We are deploying the full array of protection. We will spare no expense,” Bloomberg said at a press conference Sunday.

Workers at the Citigroup Center were funneled through an entrance where guards checked identification and examined bags. Extra police teams were visible around the 59-story building, the third largest in midtown Manhattan.

“It’s definitely a scary building to be working in when we’re a big target,” said Chip Persons, 35, who works on the 24th floor.

New York City police rerouted all Manhattan-bound trucks from the Williamsburg Bridge to the Manhattan Bridge in an effort to streamline random vehicle searches.

Trucks and vans also were forbidden to enter the city through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the Holland Tunnel, which lead to lower Manhattan. Trucks were instead diverted to the Lincoln Tunnel in mid-town and the George Washington Bridge in upper Manhattan. Police also said they would close streets surrounding Grand Central Station.

New York Stock Exchange CEO John Thain said in a statement, “The NYSE security staff will continue to work with our law enforcement partners, and Homeland Security officials on a 24 hour per day, seven day a week basis to ensure we maintain the highest levels of security. The Exchange will continue to be open for business on our normal schedule.”

At the Prudential building in Newark, police set up metal fences surrounding the Prudential Plaza building, blocked off two city streets and toted assault rifles.

“I’m a little nervous given the 9/11 situation, but I’m confident Prudential’s doing everything they can to ensure our safety,” said company employee Tracy Swistak, 27.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams put the entire city on an orange alert, although the Homeland Security Department has not officially raised the threat level outside financial-sector buildings.

The nation’s capital has increased the number of checks of vehicles on city roadways. Bomb-sniffing dog teams were being assembled to sweep the area, and closed-circuit security cameras were being turned on around the World Bank-IMF, D.C. police chief Charles Ramsey said.

“We have no plans at this time to totally shut down the area around the World Bank and IMF. But we will be greatly enhancing our presence along with the private security that’s already there,” he added.

During his Sunday news conference, Ridge would not comment on the specific intelligence sources that led to the warning, but he credited strong partnerships with allies around the world and specifically cited Pakistan.

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