A confluence of current events is leading the New York Police Department to treat this weekend’s 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks as an “elevated threat environment,” Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller told reporters Wednesday.
Miller stressed that “there is no specific credible threat to 9/11 or the events around it,” but officials have “seen the call to action this year be louder and better organized from terrorist groups than we have seen in prior years.”
“That is probably because this 9/11 remembrance marks the 20th anniversary, but it also comes at the same time as the fall of a U.S.-supported government in Afghanistan, the return of the Taliban, and other factors that are stirring those conversations,” he said. “We have noted in our observations over those platforms more than a dozen significant propaganda releases, many of them are geared toward English-language audiences, two-thirds of them coming from al-Qaeda, which has suffered, along with ISIS, significant losses in terms of territory and command and control over recent years.”
The Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Malahem Cyber Army announced in recent days that it would be releasing a new issue of its “Wolves of Manhattan” magazine in Arabic, English, and French. The headline on the magazine preview, which shows a photo of the World Trade Center burning, is “Can’t we repeat it?”
“We’ve seen the Inspire guide, another terrorist publication, circulating. We’ve seen a trailer for an al-Qaeda film that is supposed to come out soon,” Miller said. “So, we take note of all of that and factor that into our threat assessment and plans.”
Miller noted “three significant terrorist events around the world” in recent days — “obviously the attack on the airport in Afghanistan, another attack involving a knife and multiple victims in Auckland, but one closer to home in Plano, Texas.” In the last case, a man killed a Lyft driver and drove to the Plano Police Department and started shooting; police killed the gunman.
“We look at each one of these to examine what propaganda was the driver, who was the person behind it, and we are always scanning our environment,” Miller continued. “Those incidents aren’t linked in any way, except for the common thread of people acting individually on ISIS propaganda.”
NYPD will “operate on the idea that there is a threat out there and that we have to continuously hunt for that before the event, during the event, after the event, and not just at the event, but around the city.”
“Our counterterrorism deployment around these days will not just be at the 9/11 Plaza, at the U.S. Open where we have a very layered counterterrorism deployment, but around the city, because around this time of year, of course, we pull out all the stops,” he added. “And we’ve stepped it up this year not because of specific information about something in New York, but because we want people to see it, we want people to know they’re safe, we want people to know that we’re here and that we’re protecting that event in this very important time of remembrance.”
NYPD Counterterrorism Chief Martine Matarasso said that 20 years later “the NYPD is much better equipped, trained, and prepared to prevent a terrorist attack in this city.”
“There will be measures in and around the World Trade Center site that the public will see and there will be many that they won’t. This plan has been in development for many months and it couldn’t have happened without the seamless coordination between all agencies and organizations,” Matarasso said. “We will be using all of our counter-terrorism resources to ensure a safe event. These include explosive detection canines, heavy weapons teams, explosive detection instruments, license plate readers, radiological and chemical sensors, and countless cameras. Magnetometers will be used to screen every person that enters the Plaza. Our bomb squad will vet the World Trade Center site prior to the event and will remain for the duration. The Joint Terrorism Task Force will investigate any threats prior and during the ceremony. We will have plainclothes officers around the perimeter of the site to locate any suspicious people or activity. We will also have the counter drone detection teams that will mitigate if necessary.”
The focus on 9/11 events won’t deplete resources from “securing locations around the city that could potentially be a target,” she stressed.
Mayor Bill de Blasio lauded the city’s “extraordinary counter-terrorism capacity” and said the broad deployments around NYC would underscore that “we are watching, because we know the ways of the terrorists.”
“We understand this anniversary is going to be on their minds, too,” de Blasio said. “We’ve seen some attacks recently around the world that are worrisome, which is why we monitor all the time.”