2005-07-08 / Columnists

Terrorism in London Will Impact NYC

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By Howard Schwach


The terrorist attack in London, England on Thursday morning has already had an impact not only on New York City, but on Rockaway as well.

Shortly after word of the attack came via television and Internet, a motorist passing over the Cross Bay Bridge notice what he thought was a “suspicious package’ dropped nearby the northbound walkway.

He used his cell phone to call the 911 emergency system, and police responded, closing the bridge for more than a hour during rush hour traffic. The vehicular traffic on the Rockaway side went all the way back to Shore Front Parkway and in Broad Channel, a few blocks into Cross Bay Boulevard.

Motorists will noticed many changes brought by the heightened state of readiness.

There will be a police car permanently stationed at the Cross Bay Bridge, the Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge and at the Marine Park, Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. There will be occasional “safety checks” on all of the bridges. Those traveling to Manhattan by bridge will find that checkpoints will now stop sports utility vehicles and other cars as well as trucks.

There are many, however, who think that there are far more targets in Europe than in the United States.

One respected Website said, “The United States, which suffered a massive terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, would make a tougher target now than Europe due to strict security measures and a better-integrated Muslim community, experts said.

“I think it is probably more accessible for them to make attacks in Europe, primarily because you have open borders and you can cross those borders without a great deal of scrutiny.”

One terrorism expert, who once worked for the CIA, said in a Website report, “Certainly, Europe has been a priority target for Al-Qaeda for some time, since (Osama) bin Laden himself announced that Europe was being given a grace period and then it will become a target,” he said.

He attributed the fact that the United States has not been attacked since 2001, while Europe has been attacked twice recently — in Madrid and London — to “very, very high” security awareness in the United States and said “it is a little more difficult for Al-Qaeda to do major operations here now.”

Peter Singer, a security expert at the Brookings Institution think tank, said that security in Europe is just not at the same level as it is in the United States. “The security restrictions are tougher here,” he said, but he noted: “I still think there are a lot of gaps here.”

“The reality is, terrorists tend to strike where they think the target is softer, where they think that the psychological impact will be greater, where they have established cells and that eases their access to the soft target,” said David Rothkopf, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Cannistraro also noted that after the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, Al-Qaeda probably preferred to ensure that any subsequent attacks on the United States are on a grand scale.

“Al-Qaeda set a standard of mass casualties with the 9/11 events, and it probably would not want to do a one-off small operation, because then it would be looked at as a sign of weakness,” he said.

Thirty-seven people were killed and some 700 injured Thursday morning in four bomb attacks on London’s Underground and bus networks, a police spokeswoman said.

Still, the experts conceded that the United States was not immune to suicide attacks.

“It can happen anytime. In open democracies and free societies, small attacks like that are almost impossible to prevent,” said Cannistraro.

“The kind of bombings that happened in London could easily happen in the Metro in Washington,” Singer noted.A previously unknown group calling itself the Organization of Al-Qaeda Jihad in Europe claimed Thursday’s attacks in a statement on a website and threatened similar ones in Denmark, Italy and other countries with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The attacks bore similarities to the 10 blasts on four packed early-morning commuter trains last year in Madrid.

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