WASHINGTON — U.S. officials said Thursday they were investigating a credible but unconfirmed threat that al-Qaida was planning to use a car bomb to target bridges or tunnels in New York City or Washington to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the first tip of an “active plot” around that date.
The Homeland Security Department said the threat is credible and specific, but unconfirmed. The nation’s terror alert level has not changed, but raising it was under consideration Thursday night.
Law enforcement officials were investigating three people who recently entered the U.S. The threat was received by the U.S. intelligence community late Wednesday night, officials said.
“There is specific, credible but unconfirmed threat information,” said Janice Fedarcyk, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York division. “As we always do before important dates like the anniversary of 9/11, we will undoubtedly get more reporting in the coming days.”
Security has been enhanced around the country in the weeks leading up to the 10th anniversary. Law enforcement officials have been wary, particularly after information gleaned from Osama bin Laden’s compound in May indicated that al-Qaida had considered attacking the U.S. on the anniversary and other important dates.
The threat came in a single piece of information and was so specific — and came at such a time of already heightened alert — that it could not be ignored. The officials described the threat to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security matters.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters that police there were deploying additional resources around the city, but that New Yorkers should go about their business as usual. The city’s observance of the attacks will go on as planned, Bloomberg said.
The FBI and Homeland Security Department issued a joint intelligence bulletin Thursday night to law enforcement around the country urging them to maintain enhanced security and be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
Some District of Columbia police officers received an internal memo from department management on Thursday saying that the city had received “credible threats” and that additional staffing would be required, according to a law enforcement source who had seen the memo. Police in both cities were increasing their already beefed-up staffing levels in light of the recent intelligence.
President Barack Obama was briefed on the threat information Thursday morning and directed the counterterrorism community to redouble its efforts in response to the information, a White House official said.
Members of Congress also were briefed on the threat.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said she received a classified briefing Thursday morning on the terrorist threat from Caryn Wagner, the Department of Homeland Security’s undersecretary for intelligence and analysis.
“She briefed me on the nature of the threat, which is both specific and credible. This evening, John Brennan, the White House’s counterterrorism adviser, updated me on the terrorist threat. I am confident that the administration is taking the threat seriously and sharing intelligence with state and local enforcement officials in the targeted locations. The public should be alert to any suspicious activity and report such concerns to local law enforcement. If you ‘see something, say something,’ as the Department of Homeland Security advises,” Collins said.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told CNN, “There were very, very specific facts that were made known in this threat.
“I would tell people right now to go about their lives. There’s no need to panic. We don’t know if this threat is real yet. It’s being tracked down.”
One federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Given the dates that are coming up, nobody wants to underplay anything. The government is going to do everything it can to run this to the ground and assess its accuracy.”
White House officials said there were no plans to change Obama’s travel schedule on Sunday in light of the threat. The president is scheduled to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary with stops at New York’s ground zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. He will also deliver remarks Sunday night at a memorial concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
Thursday morning, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters that there was “a lot of chatter” around the anniversary of the attacks but that there was no information about a specific threat.
Jerry Markon from The Washington Post contributed to this report.