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RESPONSE TO TERROR | UNITED NATIONS

U.N. Security Reaches Unprecedented Level for Annual Session

November 09, 2001|JANET WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — The tightest security in the 56-year history of the United Nations will be in place Saturday when President Bush and world leaders meet to discuss terrorism in the wake of the attack on the nearby World Trade Center.

Fueled by fears of anthrax and statements by Osama bin Laden denouncing the international organization, an ambitious security perimeter is being erected.

Precautions include garbage trucks filled with sand at street corners to block car bombs, a flotilla of vessels in the East River protecting against possible waterborne attacks and special SWAT teams of police officers and Secret Service agents to guard the highest-profile dignitaries. Airspace above the buildings will be cleared, and bomb-sniffing dogs will be stationed underground.

"Security will be much tighter than you have ever experienced before, because the threat is high," says Fred Eckhard, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The annual General Assembly debate, which is expected to draw delegates from all 189 member countries, was postponed after the Sept. 11 attacks. It will run from Saturday morning through next Friday.

In a videotaped speech broadcast last Saturday, Bin Laden portrayed Annan as a "criminal" and said that much of the suffering in Islamic lands in recent decades could be traced to the United Nations. Bin Laden also denounced Muslim leaders who work with the world body.

"Those who want to solve our tragedies through the U.N. are hypocrites, deceiving God, the prophet and all believers," he said. "Those who pretend they are leaders of the Arab world and remain members of the U.N. are infidels."

Security at U.N. headquarters, which has already resembled a fortress since Sept. 11, is being tightened even more. Visitor tours were discontinued Wednesday, floors normally open to the public or media are blocked off and multiple layers of metal detectors are being installed inside as well as outside.

Even ambassadors will be required to go through metal detectors, said deputy U.N. security chief Jorge Villanuva.

Other measures will include emptying the underground garage at 5 p.m. today and going through it with bomb-sniffing dogs. Every car entering the garage Saturday morning will be inspected by the dogs and searched.

"It's not so much that they're worried about the people coming in--they're worried about somebody attaching a bomb to a car, for instance, and detonating it remotely," said one security official.

Several city blocks are already closed off, and additional street closings are anticipated. Federal and local intelligence officials have ranked world leaders according to vulnerability. Motorcades requiring the highest security will include special armored vans containing police officers armed with heavy weaponry. The officers, wearing body armor, will sit in swivel seats so they can fire across a broad area in case of attack.

In response to deadly exposures to anthrax elsewhere, key ventilation systems are being secured, and measures recommended for mail by federal authorities are being taken.

On Thursday, delegates and other staff arriving from around the globe were more disgruntled than frightened, because they were forced to wait in line on the sidewalk for as long as four hours to gain security credentials.

"We're all trying to accommodate people as best we can," said General Assembly spokesman Jan Fischer, sounding like a harried party host.

*

Times staff writer John J. Goldman contributed to this report.

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