Berlin attack prompts high security in US cities

2016-12-22 07:20
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New York - In the wake of the Berlin truck attack, police departments around the US are making a show of force at places where crowds gather at Christmastime.

In New York City, police dispatched heavily-armed counter-terrorism officers to stand guard at crowded pop-up Christmas markets in Union Square, Bryant Park and Columbus Circle only an hour after news broke on Tuesday about the carnage in Berlin, where a stolen truck slammed into a crowd and killed 12 people.

Shopping areas

The police department also has a programme to encourage truck rental companies to report any suspicious interactions with people wanting to rent vehicles that might be used in an attack.

Mayor Bill de Blasio called the precautions "a very sad reality."

In Chicago, police parked their vehicles diagonally at the corners of Daley Plaza to block any vehicle access to a Christmas market. In San Francisco, motorcycle and mounted horse units were patrolling in high-traffic shopping areas.

In New York, a Columbus Circle vendor said he wasn't thinking about the attack in Berlin.

"If something happens like that it could happen anywhere," said Armand Altan, 40. "We are open. There is no X-ray cameras or security checking everybody. Someone could walk inside with the vest or with the backpack, you don't know. So if we think like this, we shouldn't leave our homes.

Big cities have been fortifying sidewalks since the September 11 attacks, installing bollards and concrete planters designed to prevent vehicles from driving into pedestrians or the side of a building. Parts of Times Square and a two-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House have been closed to traffic for years, partly as a precaution against car bombs.

A recent posting in an English-language Islamic State magazine called this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade "an excellent target" for a truck attack. That caused enough concern that police used dozens of sand-filled dump trucks to block streets along the parade route.

The NYPD programme involving outreach to trucking companies was ramped up in July after a man drove a rented, refrigerated truck weighing about 20 tons into a crowd in Nice, France.

Since then, the NYPD has reached out to about 140 rental companies and seven truck driving schools in the city, giving them the phone numbers of detectives and encouraging them to use them, said Lt Lucas Miller, who runs the Intelligence Division programme.

Combat terror

The NYPD has received several calls from truck rental operations since the Berlin attack, Lucas said on Wednesday. The companies were checking in, not offering tips, "but that's just the kind of communication and interaction we want," he said.

Jake Jacoby, president of the Truck Renting and Leasing Association in Alexandria, Virginia, said his group has worked with the Transportation Security Administration and other federal agencies to combat terror.

The group has distributed a brochure to its members about what should raise suspicions with renters. They include attempting to use cash rather than a credit card and inquiring whether a truck can be modified to carry heavier loads or go faster.


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