USCG via Reuters
Coast Guard Petty Officer Brett Patterson of a tactical helicopter squadron based in Jacksonville, Fla., patrols near the Statue of Liberty in New York.
NBC, and news services
updated 12/31/2003 7:44:46 PM ET 2004-01-01T00:44:46

As 2004 arrived around the world, fears of terrorist attack cast a shadow over celebrations, with warplanes patrolling U.S. skies and armed undercover sky marshals guarding some flights.

U.S. authorities, who have said they fear an attack bigger than the strikes that killed 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, rolled out unprecedented security measures triggered by an increase in the national terrorism alert to orange, the second-highest level.

In New York, workers sealed manhole covers and removed mailboxes to guard against any potential bomb attack in Times Square. More than 750,000 revelers were expected to gather there under the guard of counter-sniper teams and seven police helicopters. Warplanes were on high alert to intercept any errant flight.

‘Learn a little bit about courage’
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., chairman of a House subcommittee on terrorism, raised doubts about security preparations, saying he would not go to New York “for anything.”

“Secretary Ridge says just do what you normally do,” Shays said Tuesday in an interview with NBC affiliate WVIT-TV of Hartford, Conn., referring to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. “I would say, what do you normally do? If normally you go to Times Square, I wouldn’t do what you normally do.”

Video: Safety pledge

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg accused Shays of being a coward and suggested that turning up for festivities at Times Square amounted to defiance of terrorists.

Bloomberg noted that former Iraq retired Army Spec. Shoshana Johnson, who was taken prisoner in Iraq, would be taking part in the Times Square festivities.

“She was a woman fighting to protect the congressman’s freedoms,” Bloomberg said Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show. “She was captured and wounded in Iraq. Maybe he should call her and learn a little bit about courage.”

Partygoers heading to New York were warned to expect long delays at bridges and tunnels. Every vehicle on affected routes was subject to a random stop and search, New Jersey officials said. State troopers were riding the rails to assist transit police on trains going in and out of New York.

“Drivers should allow much, much more time than normal,” said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Heavy precautions
Ten days ago, the United States raised its terror alert to its second-highest level and said it would remain there through the holiday and perhaps beyond. But authorities insisted that it was still safe to travel.

“I’d put the family on the plane,” Ridge said Tuesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“People travel. People must travel,” he said.

But protecting mass gatherings against infiltration by individual bombers or by attacks from the air is an enormous task, and local authorities were rolling out their big guns:

Nearly the entire police force of about 2,000 officers was on duty, in addition to about 600 jail officers. Authorities also were relying on about 4,000 hotel security guards to help control a crowd of partyers expected to grow as large as 350,000.

Video: Other cities on edge “These are creative people who commit terrorism, so we need to be ready,” Las Vegas Sheriff Bill Young said in an interview with NBC affiliate KVBC-TV.

The increase in the alert level and reports of threats appeared to affect business in Las Vegas. Marc Falcone, an analyst with Deutsche Bank, said New Year’s Eve cancellations jumped in the last week to twice as many as in 2002.

  • In Pasadena, Calif., where thousands will attend the Rose Bowl parade and college football game, police planned to use electronic sensors to detect any biological attack. Video surveillance cameras were to capture images of spectators lining the streets.

Flights over the Rose Bowl were to be limited to police and military aircraft; everyone working in the stadium, from hot dog vendors to television camera crews, was being required to wear photo identification.

  • Boston was expecting more than a million visitors for its “First Night” arts festival, the nation’s oldest such celebration. Security there was to remain consistent with that of the celebrations the last two years.

Metal trash cans are removed from the Boylston Street parade route and replaced with cardboard boxes, to minimize damage if there is an explosion. And the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was posting security officers and bomb-sniffing dogs on buses, subways and trains carrying revelers into the city.

  • Police in Britain, one of Washington’s chief allies in the war in Iraq and the target of recent guerrilla attacks in Turkey, said they remained on high alert but saw no specific threat in coming days.
  • In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, police said they feared that fugitive Islamic militants could launch attacks on New Year’s Eve festivities. Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country with a sizable Christian minority, has been the scene of several major attacks in recent years, including an explosion in October 2002 that killed 202 people at a Bali night club favored by foreigners.

Meanwhile, some armed sky marshals boarded some international flights after Washington ordered foreign airlines this week to place them on selected flights to or from the United States.

NBC’s Pete Williams in Washington and Leanne Gregg in Las Vegas, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: A nation on alert


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