Wednesday, September 23, 2009

US on alert

Police guard a hotel block in New York on Tuesday as world leaders converge on the city for the annual United Nations General Assembly. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK - THE US government expanded a terrorism warning from transit systems to stadiums, hotels and entertainment complexes as investigators searched for more suspects on Tuesday in a possible Al-Qaeda plot to set off hydrogen-peroxide bombs hidden in backpacks.

Police bolstered their presence at high-profile locations. Extra officers with bulletproof vests, rifles and dogs were assigned to spots such as Grand Central Terminal in New York.

Plainclothes officers handed out fliers at a nearby hotel with a warning in large block letters: 'If you suspect terrorism, call the NYPD.'

The warnings come amid an investigation centering on Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Denver airport shuttle driver who authorities say received Al-Qaeda explosives training in Pakistan and was found entering New York City two weeks ago with bomb-making instructions on his computer.

Zazi's arrest in Colorado last week touched off the most intense flurry of government terror warnings and advisories to come to light since President Barack Obama took office in January.

Though Zazi is charged only with lying to the government, law enforcement officials said he may have been plotting with others to detonate backpack bombs on New York trains in a scheme similar to the attacks on the London subway and Madrid's rail system.

Backpacks and cell phones were seized in raids on apartments Zazi visited in New York.

Two law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss details of the investigation told The Associated Press that more than a half-dozen people were being scrutinised in the alleged plot.

The FBI said 'several individuals in the United States, Pakistan and elsewhere' are being investigated.

'There's a lot more work to be done,' said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, cautioning that the probe was still in its early stages. -- AP

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