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'New York City Remains Primary Target for Terrorists,' say Experts - 2003-03-05

The heads of New York's newly-created counter-terrorist force say that the city is still a primary target of international terrorists.

Before Frank Libutti was appointed the New York Police Department's Deputy Commissioner of Counter-Terrorism in mid-January, he served as Special Assistant for Homeland Security at the U.S. Department of Defense. He says that captured copies of the al-Qaida training manual indicate that New York remains a primary target.

"New York offers all of what is described in their handbook as criteria for an attack," he said. "The opportunity to bring down the economy of the country, killing a lot of people, and destroying symbols of America. We've been a target, that we know of, four times, and hit successfully twice."

At a news briefing in New York, Mr. Libutti said that in the 16 months since September 11, 2001, the city has taken measures to make a terrorist attack more difficult, including increasing police presence, deploying the police at unpredictable places and times, and encouraging vigilance on the part of the public. Still, he says New York remains vulnerable.

"Anywhere from 40-50,000 to 100,000 men and women have been through terrorist training camps worldwide," he said. "And their method of operation, in general terms, is to return to their base camp areas and solicit and recruit more people. The bottom line is, in terms of terrorism, their capability is still very, very high."

David Cohen, a 35-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, recently joined Mr. Libutti on the New York counter-terrorism team as Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence. He fears that, as terror alerts go by without incident, both people and law enforcement will forget the persistent threat.

"One of our most important jobs is to never let complacency set in," said David Cohen. "Because this threat isn't going away anytime soon. It may change, but by my estimation and those who are expert in the field, this is not going away anytime soon."

Mr. Cohen concluded, however, that New Yorkers are resilient. They have incorporated the threat of terrorism into their daily lives, and are going about business as usual.