Soda can sparks panic in New York

October 08, 2005

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NEW YORK, Oct 7: A section of New York’s Pennsylvania Station, a key East Coast transportation hub, was briefly sealed off on Friday because of a suspicious item on a public concourse as the city remained on high alert due to a threat to its subway system.

Police sealed off part of the station and officers dressed in hazardous materials suits and officers with explosive-sniffing dogs searched the main concourse that serves Amtrak, the national passenger railroad. Nearby, coffee-sipping commuters rushed off to work.

Despite the warning on Thursday from city and federal officials that a specific threat to the vast subway system had been detected, millions of New Yorkers and suburban commuters — some jittery, others stoic — returned to their travelling routines on Friday.

Officials would not say what led to the Penn Station precaution, but one Amtrak officer at the scene said: “It was a soda can with a green liquid bubbling out, but it doesn’t seem to be anything.”

By late morning, passengers were free to move freely. Amtrak operations were never disrupted.

An intelligence source in Washington said the wider alert of a threat to America’s largest subway system came from intelligence in Iraq.

“Raids in Iraq in recent days or weeks did produce intelligence that led to the New York City terror threat alert,” said an intelligence official.

Uniformed police stepped up searches of bags and increased their presence at subway stations a day after Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plea to commuters to leave their luggage, backpacks and baby strollers at home.

BOMB IN BABY STROLLER: “Subway terror, Bombs in strollers,” screamed the headline in the tabloid Daily News, which is popular with morning commuters, after authorities indicated the threat may have included a plot to hide a bomb in a baby stroller.

The century-old transit system is both vital and emblematic for New York, moving 4.5 million riders a day in the country’s largest city.

“It’s a little quieter than normal. That makes me a little nervous,” said Lisa Marie Dipaola, 24, from the platform beneath Times Square on her way to her investment banking job.

Mr Bloomberg, a habitual rider who is also in the middle of a re-election campaign, took the subway home after calling a snap news conference to announce the threat and rode the train back to work again on Friday morning.

Millions of others have no choice.

“I have to use the subway,” said teacher Milagros Madera, 42, who brought her five- and six-year-old sons onto the train despite the threat. “They love riding the subway,” she said.

While New York authorities put the city on high alert, officials in Washington downplayed the threat.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the threat to the subway was ‘of doubtful credibility’.

The information was shared with local officials ‘out of an abundance of caution’, but there was no plan to raise the threat level for New York or the country, said Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke.

New York has been on alert since the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Centre and bolstered security after the July 7 attack on London’s transit system. Those bombers carried explosives in backpacks.—Reuters