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Checkpoints, bag searches: Heightened security after potential terror threat in NYC, DC

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - Security worker Eric Martinez wore a pin depicting the twin towers on his lapel as he headed to work in lower Manhattan on Friday, unfazed by a report of a credible but unconfirmed terror threat before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

He worked downtown then and lived through it. He still works there — and didn't hesitate to take the subway.

"It's the only way you can get to work. If something's going to happen it's going to happen. You just have to deal with it," he said. "This is the time we live in. If you're going to be afraid, you're just going to stay home."

Once again, New Yorkers dealt with an ominous-sounding report of a possible threat against the city by taking it in stride. To them, the inconveniences of snarled traffic, bridge checkpoints and train station bag searches have become routine.

U.S. officials said Thursday that they were chasing a credible but unconfirmed al-Qaida threat to use a car bomb on bridges or tunnels in New York or Washington.

D.C. commuters grappled with similar complications and tried to take them in stride.

Cheryl Francis, of Chantilly, Va., commutes over a bridge into Washington every day and didn't plan to change her habits. She was at work in the capital city on Sept. 11, 2001, and believes the country is more aware and alert now.

"It's almost like sleeping with one eye open," she said.

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said already-heightened security was beefed up even more.

Police were increasing security at bridges and tunnels, setting up vehicle checkpoints, doing bomb sweeps of parking garages and towing more illegally parked cars, Kelly said.

The measures were nothing New Yorkers — or the well-prepared law enforcement agencies — haven't seen before, Bloomberg said Friday.

"Keep in mind, we have threats all the time," he said on his weekly radio appearance on WOR. "On the Internet, every day, there are threats of people, particularly around big sporting events and religious holidays, and around commemorations of things like 9-11. And each time the NYPD, with the FBI, we increase our security, which obviously we have done for this."

On Friday morning, the mayor rode the subway down to City Hall to try to assure commuters the city was prepared.

"We don't want al-Qaida or any other organization ... to take away the freedoms without firing a shot," he said after getting off the train near the Brooklyn Bridge. Bloomberg urged New Yorkers to just "go back to work. And leave it to the professionals."

Police planned a show of force at Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station and the Times Square subway station because of a previously planned counterterror drill with rail agencies.

Authorities stopped vehicles at the 59th Street bridge, which connects Manhattan to Queens, causing a major backup. The Brooklyn Bridge was down to one lane, and checkpoints were up near Times Square and in other Midtown locations.

At Penn Station, transit police in helmets and bulletproof vests and carrying assault rifles watched the crowds.

Officials were swabbing passengers' bags near an escalator to the train platforms, and police searched the bags of passengers at the entrance to a subway station. National Guard troops in camouflaged fatigues moved among the throng, eyeing packages.

Roseanne Lee, 64, said her taxi was stopped twice at police checkpoints on its way from the Upper East Side to Penn Station. Police looked in the windows of the cab but did not question her or the driver, she said. At one checkpoint, police were searching a moving van, she said.

The delays made the fare higher, "but I don't care," Lee said. "It's better to be safe. You can't stop doing what you're doing because of these threats. You just have to be careful."

Gail Murray, an administrative assistant who works in Manhattan, took the threat in stride as she listened to Long Island Rail Road announcements aboard a train heading to Penn Station.

"I thought, 'Here we go again,'" she said. "That's all just part of living in New York City."

Police tours were extended, effectively increasing the strength of the patrol force, and the department prepared to respond to an increase in calls of suspicious packages. They also added more police vehicles with license plate readers.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Center site, was also at a heightened state of alert. Spokesman Steve Coleman said there would be increased vehicle checks and increased bag checks at the authority's airports, bus and rail terminals.

City officials said there much would be done behind the scenes, in places that New Yorkers wouldn't even notice.

Bloomberg and Kelly stressed the most important thing to do was to go on with life as usual.

Many New Yorkers were doing just that. Dressed in jeans and a Teamsters T-shirt, Michael Murphy of Seaford, didn't have terror threats on his mind as he headed to work at the armoury at 26th and Lexington Avenue, where he was helping to stage shows for Fashion Week.

"Like they said last night, we have the greatest police department in the world," said Murray, 49. "I'm confident they'll do the job."

In Washington, one rail rider was more frightened.

Maria Rothman tried to take an early morning Amtrak train to Philadelphia, hoping it would be a less inviting target, although she wound up missing it.

"I embrace as a concept you got to go ahead and live your life," she said, "except that it's hard."

___

Associated Press writers Samantha Gross, Beth Fouhy, Chris Hawley and Amanda Barrett in New York, and Eric Tucker and Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this report.

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