After four days on high alert, police announced Monday that they were scaling back recently increased subway security, measures prompted by a report of an al-Qaida plot to blow up trains.
Authorities said the arrest and interrogation of three suspects by U.S. forces in Iraq had so far produced no information to corroborate the report.
“Things were moving in the right direction,” New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters at the Columbus Day Parade. “We’re going to slowly reduce our coverage to what it was pre-Oct. 6.”
Kelly stressed that police would continue random bag searches and other precautions in the subways that were begun over the summer in response to the bombings of the London transit system.
Officials said they were still investigating the claims by a government informant that al-Qaida operatives in Iraq had schemed to attack the New York subway using baby strollers and briefcases packed with remote-controlled explosives. Officials also continued to defend a decision to flood the subways last Thursday with thousands of extra police officers.
John Miller, an assistant FBI director and the agency’s chief spokesman, said federal authorities agreed with the police department’s assessment that any risk had subsided. Miller said the operation in Iraq “would have served to neutralize any threat that may or may not have existed.”
The suspects in custody in Iraq denied they planned to coordinate with operatives who were already in the city to carry out an attack, said two law enforcement officials. The men passed polygraph tests, the officials added.
“The people supposedly standing by in New York probably were never there,” one of the officials said. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been completed.
Still, city officials stood by their decision to heighten subway security, saying the initial tip had come from an informant with a reputation for reliability and was too specific to ignore.
“We did precisely the right thing,” Kelly said. “We had no choice but to respond the way we did.”