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Terror warning expanded to hotels, stadiums

More suspects being sought in alleged plot

By Tom Hays and Devlin Barrett
Associated Press / September 23, 2009

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NEW YORK - The government expanded a terrorism warning from transit systems to US stadiums, hotels, and entertainment complexes as investigators searched for more suspects yesterday in a possible Al Qaeda plot to set off hydrogen-peroxide bombs hidden in backpacks.

Police bolstered their presence at high-profile locations. Extra officers with bulletproof vests, rifles, and dogs were assigned to spots such as Grand Central Terminal in New York. Plainclothes officers handed out fliers at a nearby hotel with a warning in large block letters: “If you suspect terrorism, call the NYPD.’’

The warnings come amid an investigation centering on Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Denver airport shuttle driver who authorities say received Al Qaeda explosives training in Pakistan and was found entering New York City two weeks ago with bomb-making instructions on his computer.

Zazi’s arrest in Colorado last week touched off the most intense flurry of government terror warnings and advisories to come to light since President Obama took office.

Though Zazi is charged only with lying to the government, law enforcement officials said he may have been plotting with others to detonate backpack bombs on New York trains in a scheme similar to the attacks on the London subway and Madrid’s rail system. Backpacks and cellphones were seized in raids on apartments Zazi visited in New York.

Two law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity said that more than a half-dozen people were being scrutinized in the alleged plot. The FBI said “several individuals in the United States, Pakistan, and elsewhere’’ are being investigated.

“There’s a lot more work to be done,’’ said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

In two bulletins sent to police departments Monday, federal counterterrorism officials urged law enforcement and private companies to be vigilant at stadiums, entertainment complexes, and hotels.

In Boston, Police Commissioner Edward Davis said in a statement yesterday that there is no known specific threat to Boston or Massachusetts. However, Boston police officers are routinely reminded to remain vigilant, he said.

The department reminds community members to report any suspicious behavior to the by calling 911 or the Crimestoppers tip line, 1-800-494-TIPS.

The bulletin on stadiums noted that an Al Qaeda training manual specifically lists “blasting and destroying the places of amusement, immorality and sin . . . and attacking vital economic centers.’’ Counterterrorism officials are also advising police officers to be on the lookout for any possible bomb-making at self-storage facilities, saying that terrorists have used such places to build bombs.

The bulletins came just days after warnings about the vulnerability of the nation’s mass transit systems and the possible danger of hydrogen peroxide-based explosives.

In a statement, the FBI and Homeland Security said that while the agencies “have no information regarding the timing, location, or target of any planned attack, we believe it is prudent to raise the security awareness of our local law enforcement partners regarding the targets and tactics of previous terrorist activity.’’

A half-dozen terrorism warnings and alerts have been issued in the past week amid the investigations in New York and Denver. Bulletins, particularly about hotels as possible terrorist targets, are common, and often don’t make news.

Some Americans were blase about the latest warnings.

“If it happens, it happens,’’ said Lynn Calhoun, an Indianapolis computer programmer who visited Conseco Fieldhouse to buy a ticket for a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert there in December. “Where are you going to go? What are you going to do? You can’t just go and hide out in Canada for a month.’’

The vigilance is playing out during a meeting of the UN General Assembly, with Obama and other leaders from around the world in town. Also, thousands of policy makers and other visitors are arriving in Pittsburgh for a two-day economic summit of wealthy and developing nations.