NEW YORK (AFP) – The US Department of Homeland Security stepped up security at airports across America, where major cities went on alert on Tuesday (March 22) after deadly bombings tore through Brussels.
Secretary Jeh Johnson said additional security was being deployed at “major city airports in the United States, and at various rail and transit stations around the country” as a “precautionary measure.”
“At present, we have no specific, credible intelligence of any plot to conduct similar attacks here in the United States,” he said.
Two explosions, both possibly caused by a suicide bomber, hit the check-in hall at Zaventem airport in Belgium. About an hour later, a third explosion rocked a Brussels metro station. Around 35 people were killed and the Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility.
The United States is “very focused on the threat posed by lone terrorist actors,” Johnson said.
“We are concerned that such radicaliz\sed individuals or small groups could carry out an attack in the homeland with little warning.”
Radicalisation of impressionable Americans by online propaganda has long raised fears about the threat of lone wolf attacks in the United States, particularly after a married couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California in December.
FBI chief James Comey said last year that upwards of 200 Americans have travelled or attempted to travel to Syria to join ISIS.
US federal, state and local authorities are working with airport officials and the aviation industry to increase security. “A number of other security measures” were also being taken “that are not suitable for public disclosure,” Johnson said, urging US citizens to take action if they see anything suspicious.
“As I have said many times, ‘If you see something, say something’ is more than a slogan,” he said.
Overseas travellers into the country, regardless of visa status, are vetted against the terrorist screening database, Johnson said. “We continually evaluate whether more screening is necessary, particularly in the light of today’s attacks,” he added.
In New York, America’s largest city, National Guard reinforcements were ordered to New York’s John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.
Police armed with machine guns patrolled New York’s Times Square, a bustling tourist and commercial hub, police patrols doubled during the city’s rush hour and security officers boosted at rail and bus stations, officials said.
“We are in a high state of vigilance and readiness,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters. City police said the increased presence would last several days.
New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered bolstered security at airports, bridges, tunnels and commuter rail systems, and said the World Trade Center, built on the ashes of the 9/11 attacks, would be lit with the Belgian colors.
State police were assigned to New York’s Penn and Grand Central Stations, the World Trade Center, the city’s bus terminal and the George Washington Bridge, which connects Manhattan to New Jersey. Armed police were also seen out in force at Dulles Airport, just outside Washington.
In Los Angeles, security was beefed up at the airport, the third-busiest in the country, a spokesman said. Police said security was also being strengthened at Hollywood landmarks as well as key events taking place throughout the city, including sports matches.