Security is being heightened once again in New York and Washington following new revelations Monday that al-Qaeda terrorists had considered using tourist helicopters to launch attacks in New York and had separate plans to bomb the U.S. Capitol building.
Police in New York City are considering posting officers outside several heliports after receiving information reportedly described as "credible and specific" that al-Qaeda terrorists might use tourist helicopters to launch attacks on buildings and other city landmarks. Homeland Security officials are reportedly preparing to issue new warnings and security procedures to helicopter charter companies. Security analysts say those measures could include increased patrols around heliports and airport-style screening of helicopter passengers.
Time magazine writer Jeff Kluger, who has written about the new threats, says using chartered helicopters to attack targets is a plan al-Qaeda was looking into.
"The city [New York] is obviously very vulnerable from above the air and helicopters, they are not military vehicles, they are not regulated the way commercial airline flights are as a result they are still considered soft targets," he said.
The plan to attack U.S.targets was uncovered by authorities in Pakistan after the arrest of Mohammed Khan, an alleged al-Qaeda member on July 13. Investigators seized computer disks and files containing detailed blueprint layouts of financial buildings, escape routes and pedestrian movements. U.S. and British authorities are also studying thousands of computer disks seized after the arrest of 12 suspected al Qaeda operatives in Britain last week.
On August 1, the Homeland Security Department raised the nation's terror alert level after intelligence indicated al Qaeda operatives had carried out videotaped reconnaissance missions for planned terror attacks on U.S. financial institutions, bridges and other landmarks in New York City, New Jersey, and Washington.
"What we know now that we did not know six months ago is that they [al-Qaeda] have done a good deal of planning and surveillance work," said White House Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend.
Mrs. Townsend says there could be other possible al-Qaeda targets including the U.S. Capitol and members of Congress. Last week security was dramatically increased around the Capitol including new police check points and the closure of several streets. U.S. officials say they are trying to determine now if the recent arrests of alleged al-Qaeda suspects overseas had disrupted all or part of a terrorist plot designed to disrupt the U.S. presidential election in November.