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New York City Police Commissioner Says, 'We Are at War' - 2002-06-04

New York City police and FBI officials met with property owners Monday in New York to try to improve security, following warnings that apartment buildings could be potential targets for terrorist attacks.

In the first in a series of closed-door conferences, nearly 300 landlords were briefed by counter-terrorism experts in New York on how to recognize so-called "suspicious activity."

The meeting came less than two-weeks after the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that terrorists could try to use apartment buildings in future attacks. Although the warning resulted from uncorroborated evidence, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters that law enforcement officials are not taking any chances after the September 11 attacks, which left more than 2,800 dead. Commissioner Kelly said, "We are at war. We as a department along with the people of the city, must do all in our power to ensure that that never happens again."

In the past, terrorists in Chechnya believed to have links with the al-Qaida network responsible for the September 11 attacks, targeted civilians by planting explosives in apartments.

Police Commissioner Kelly said that although common sense is useful in identifying suspicious behavior, real-estate agents and landlords in New York were given specific guidelines, including a hot line to report suspicious activities, how to recognize dangerous packages and discussions on boosting video surveillance.

"We advised them to be suspicious of anyone requesting certain apartments with no obvious benefit," he said, "or paying large amounts of cash up front for an apartment. We also gave them a briefing on how to spot fraud or fraudulent documents. And finally, we talked about explosives. What they look like, how they're made and where they made be hidden."

Although there are legal limits as to how closely a landlord can investigate tenants, some property owners say they are considering new precautions, such as tenant identification cards.

John Gilbert works for a large real estate owner present at the conference. Mr. Gilbert said, "Every New Yorker, whether you're an employer, whether you're a commercial tenant or residential tenant or whether you own your own home, you have to change the way you think, the way you see, the way you sense."

Officials say that the police and the FBI will hold similar meetings with financial firms, and members of the arts, entertainment and cultural industries. Counter-terrorism experts are also briefing community groups to relay information on recognizing suspected terrorists.