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US Lawmakers Examine Terrorist Threat to Mass Transit Systems

From left: TSA Administrator John Pistole, NYC Police Department Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism Richard Daddario, and Chicago Transit Authority President Richard Rodriguez, testify on Capitol Hill, before the House Homeland Security Committee, M
From left: TSA Administrator John Pistole, NYC Police Department Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism Richard Daddario, and Chicago Transit Authority President Richard Rodriguez, testify on Capitol Hill, before the House Homeland Security Committee, M
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Cindy Saine

In the aftermath of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's killing by U.S. forces, a number of U.S. lawmakers are expressing concern about the possibility of a retaliatory strike by al-Qaida supporters.  The House Homeland Security Committee examined the terrorist threats posed to mass transit systems in big cities across the United States.  

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, a Republican from New York, expressed the anxiety felt by many Americans after the killing of Osama bin Laden that some kind of retaliatory terrorist attacks may be in the works.

"Especially now in the wake of bin Laden's death, we have to assume that al-Qaida or its affiliates, al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula, any of the others, any of the radicalized terrorists here at home, self-starters, if you will, loan wolves or organized terrorist operations in this country will launch a domestic attack," said kinf. "And to me clearly, if we are talking about potential targets, no one is more of a potential target than our mass transit systems."

After President Obama announced late Sunday that U.S. commandos killed Bin Laden, several major cities such as New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles deployed larger than usual numbers of policemen and security agents at airports, subway and rail stations, and other locations.

Richard Daddario is the Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism with the New York City Police Department.  He agreed that mass transit systems around the world have been targeted many times since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

"Post 9/11 hundreds of acts of terrorism have been directed at transit systems around the world, including in London, Moscow, Madrid and most recently, Minsk," said Daddario. "In New York City, plots have been directed at the PATH[rail system] and subway systems."

Several people at the hearing recalled the plot to detonate homemade bombs in the New York City subway system by Najibullah Zazi.   Zazi was arrested in 2009, has plead guilty to terrorism charges and faces life in prison at his sentencing set for June.  Daddario said that terrorists aim to make people afraid to use public transportation, which makes it difficult for them to go to work,visit friends, attend cultural and sporting events and to in effect, just live a normal life.

John Pistole is the Administrator of the Transportation Security Adminstration, responsible for overseeing transporation safety across the United States.  Asked if there were heightened threats to mass transist sytems since the killing of bin Laden, Pistole said:

"There are no specific threats to mass or rail transit right now, in the U.S.," said Pistole.

But Pistole said there is no reason for public officials or for citizens to be less vigilant or less aware of potential threats.

"The bottom line is, we are concerned today, just as we were yesterday, and will be tomorrow, that terrorists are trying to hurt us, or try to kill us, in any means and mode that they can, and recognizing that transportation is one of those key vulnerabilities," he said.

At a time of debate on dramatic cuts to government spending programs, the police commissioners present at the hearing and most of the lawmakers from both major political parties said it would make no sense to cut any federal funds for security for mass transist systems.  Congressman King said the human and economic costs of a successful terrorist attack would far outweigh any money saved on security for mass transit.

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