Skip to comments.Americans Set to Ring in New Year on High Alert
Posted on 12/31/2003 11:26:59 AM PST by NittanyLion
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Americans will ring in the New Year on Wednesday with celebrations from New York's Times Square to the Strip in Las Vegas as warplanes patrol overhead due to increased fears of terror attacks.
Crowds of about 750,000 will watch the traditional ball drop at midnight in midtown Manhattan and a throng of more than 350,000 were expected in the heart of America's gambling capital as the nation is on a heightened security alert.
The skies above New York and Las Vegas will be patrolled by warplanes after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security raised the nation's terror alert to its second highest level 10 days ago. And New York, Las Vegas, Chicago and Washington are also subject to flight restrictions.
In Times Square, security was evident from early morning as police cleared streets of vendors selling T-shirts, knock-off watches, doughnuts and coffee.
"I see a lot of policemen around. That makes me feel safer," said Felix Rosado, who came from Puerto Rico for the festivities.
But some worried that despite all the security, Times Square wasn't the safest place to be.
"I've heard it's really crowded and miserable and I don't think it's the safest place to be," said Panthea Zarrabi, a student visiting from Los Angeles.
Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn said the unprecedented security levels across America stemmed from Homeland Security "chatter" that six or seven U.S. cities could be targeted for attack.
"America has certainly changed and the world has changed and we have to change with that," Guinn told CNN in an interview, adding that this was the first time warplanes will patrol Las Vegas skies for such an event.
New York's celebration was disparaged by an unlikely source when the head of a U.S. House of Representatives panel on terrorism said he wouldn't attend it "for anything."
"I wouldn't go into places when you're packed and where if there was panic, a lot of injuries would take place," Rep. Christopher Shays (news, bio, voting record), of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security and chairman of a terrorism subcommittee, said on Connecticut's WVIT-TV.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg hit back on CBS' "The Early Show" saying his fellow Republican from Connecticut lacked courage and that those attending the event were defying terrorists.
"You're going to see a million people here who have the courage to come," said Bloomberg, who has insisted the security effort will make Times Square the safest place on earth.
New York Daily News ran a front page headline "ON GUARD" over a picture of a helmeted officer holding automatic weapon.
Security at Times Square will include thousands of uniformed and undercover police, canine units, radiation detection units and metal detectors. Garbage cans and other street fixtures have been removed, manhole covers welded shut and seven city helicopters will circle overhead.
Among those patrolling the party will be 1,365 rookie police who graduated from the NYPD Academy on Tuesday.
New York and Las Vegas are two of the most popular New Year's Eve celebrations. Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge has said the government would beef up security around large gatherings seen as potential terror targets.
The government has routinely used flight restrictions since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
On Dec. 21, Homeland Security raised its terror alert to the second highest level of orange or a "high" risk of attack and Ridge warned there was a high risk of an al Qaeda attack that could be bigger than that of Sept. 11.
The United States blames Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s al Qaeda organization for the deaths of nearly 3,000 people in the Sept. 11 attacks, when hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon (news - web sites) and a field in Pennsylvania.
This is mostly a rehash of other articles already posted, but notice Reuters' spin...the US blames al Qaeda? Didn't Bin Laden eventually take credit for the bombings?
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