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On the Streets, Security Alarm Met With a Shrug

Leaders make a show of solidarity at sites listed on a purported Al Qaeda target list.

August 03, 2004|Thomas S. Mulligan | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — New Yorkers on Monday largely shrugged off the weekend terror alarms, returning to work with as much good humor as could be expected on a morning in which they had to cope with commuting delays and other evidence of heightened security.

The financial markets overcame early jitters to close with modest gains on the first trading day after Homeland Security officials identified five key financial institutions -- including the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup Center in New York and the World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C. -- as potential targets of Al Qaeda car- or truck-bomb attacks.

Truck traffic was barred from some bridges and tunnels leading into Manhattan to allow police to concentrate their monitoring efforts. On the streets of New York, Washington and Newark, N.J., extra police details set up barriers and traffic checkpoints around the five sites on the purported Al Qaeda list.

Political leaders made themselves conspicuous at the targeted landmarks Monday, saying they wanted to show solidarity with the people who work there and help them thumb their noses at the terrorist threat.

First Lady Laura Bush and her twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, stopped for coffee with New York Gov. George E. Pataki and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Monday afternoon in the atrium at Citigroup Center in Midtown Manhattan, as a thousand onlookers applauded from the lobby's upper levels. Pataki picked up the tab.

"I want to thank people for coming to work," Laura Bush said. "I'm really glad to be here today."

Hours earlier, Pataki, Bloomberg and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) had joined NYSE Chief Executive John A. Thain on the ornate balcony overlooking the exchange's trading floor to ring the ceremonial opening bell.

"There may be butterflies in some stomachs," Schumer told reporters, but people in New York's financial community are feeling "almost a moral imperative" to go to work as usual.

Traders heading to work at the NYSE filed past wrought-iron barriers and flashed their picture IDs at police checkpoints -- security measures that have been in place since the attacks on the World Trade Center nearly three years ago.

Kenneth J. Polcari, head of the floor-trading firm of Polcari/Weicker, said that in a conference call on Sunday, he told his 10 employees that anyone who was worried about the threat could stay home Monday.

"They all kind of laughed at me," Polcari said.

Bloomberg and Pataki also attended a groundbreaking Monday for Bank of America's 52-story headquarters near Times Square, to be completed in 2008. "We are committed to being in the city and we are not going to be deterred by threats of terrorism," declared Bank of America Chief Executive Kenneth D. Lewis.

In Washington, in addition to the World Bank, the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund was named as an Al Qaeda target.

Police blocked off 19th Street between the World Bank and IMF buildings, and there were security officers posted on either end of the block, stopping vehicles.

With a staff of 7,000, the World Bank has been under tight security since Sept. 11, with metal detectors and bag checks for anyone going past the lobby. On Monday, however, no one could even enter the building without an ID, and employees were asked to receive only business-related visitors.

Employees standing in front of the World Bank said that inside the building, the day felt like any other. It was only when they stepped outside and saw the street closed off and the media gathered across the street that they felt any difference.

Melissa Morris said that family members called her Sunday when they heard the warnings. "They were like, 'I love you,' " said Morris, a junior professional associate. "I told them, 'Nothing's going to happen.' "

At the downtown Newark headquarters of Prudential Financial Inc., the fifth target on the Al Qaeda list, there were added police and street barricades. But "for the most part, it was business as usual," spokeswoman Karen Howell said.

New Yorkers already were gearing up for the crowds, street closings and demonstrations expected to accompany the Republican National Convention when it opens Aug. 30 at Madison Square Garden.

Sunday's terror alert meant that the extra level of watchfulness and tension had arrived a few weeks early.

Mortimer Zuckerman, owner of Citigroup Center and publisher of the New York Daily News, said the hardest job wasn't ramping up security to meet a crisis, but maintaining vigilance over the long haul.

In response to Sunday's alert, Zuckerman said, "we've introduced precautious that are insupportable for the long run: checking everyone's IDs, diverting traffic. We'll probably keep doing it between now and the end of the convention. But we can't do it forever."

At Houston's restaurant and bar in Citigroup Center, a handful of people, many of whom work in the building, sipped drinks and picked at French fries Monday afternoon.

Jeffrey Lucas, 29, a clerk at Citigroup, clutched a tattered book of scriptures as he sat on a wall in front of the building and chatted with co-workers before winding up his lunch break.

"I came home from church yesterday and saw my building on the news. That was crazy," he said. "My kids were asking me this morning, 'Why are you going in?' But I can't just stay home. You have to do what you do, but you also have to keep your eyes open."

Lillian Brown, a retired guidance counselor, drove in from Connecticut for a doctor's appointment across the street from Citigroup Center.

"I'm angry that the terrorists want to change my lifestyle," she said. "The best thing Americans can do is not to change their lives. I'd rather die in the process of living my normal life than kowtow to a terrorist."

*

Times staff writers Maggie Farley and John J. Goldman in New York and Jia Lynn Yang in Washington contributed to this story.

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