Date: April 29, 2004
Abstract: A terrorism task force was investigating an “uncorroborated” threat to a Los Angeles-area shopping mall, and federal officials say an attack may have been planned for Thursday.
“As of now, the information is uncorroborated and the credibility of the source is unknown,” Los Angeles police said in a statement.
No specific shopping mall was named, but an anonymous telephone call to federal officials several days ago indicated a mall near the Federal Building in West Los Angeles, Police Chief William Bratton said. The caller provided no further details about a possible attack.
The warning was analyzed for several days along with other information that Bratton declined to specify. Malls were notified and police were placed on citywide alert before the public warning was made.
The alert was “strictly precautionary,” Bratton said at a news conference at The Grove, an open shopping mall in the Fairfax District.
Bratton Calls for ‘Eyes, Ears’ of Public
The alert was “strictly precautionary,” Bratton said at a news conference.
“We need the eyes, the ears” of the public because such scrutiny can deter terrorists, he added.
Bratton said police and the FBI were trying to identify the caller. Police had already been investigating several other threats that weren’t as specific.
The Los Angeles Police Department increased patrols at shopping malls and asked mall operators to beef up security while a joint terrorism task force investigates.
Thursday morning, pairs of LAPD officers on foot patrolled all three levels of the Westside Pavilion, about 2½ miles away from the Federal Building.
Liliana Restrepo, 24, who operates a jewelry cart in the mall, said she wasn’t worried herself but was afraid the threat would scare away customers. “It will be a horrible day,” she said.
Crew members putting up sets for a Tim Allen movie called “Skipping Christmas” also shrugged off the warning. “We can’t let it bother us. We can’t live in fear,” said Alex Barnoya.
4,000 Similar Threats
FBI spokesman Matt McLaughlin said that because the "reliability of the source is unknown" and exact details were "unsubstantiated," officials decided that as the date drew nearer and "out of an abundance of caution" they would enlist the public's help.
He added that seeking public help is done "in cases all the time." The FBI says 4,000 similar, unsubstantiated threats have been received in the United States over the last year.
An advisory issued late Wednesday asks the public and mall security to look for:
- People or activities that don't "fit" into the mall environment.
- People sitting in a parked vehicle for a long time.
- People sketching or taking notes, photographing or videotaping areas not normally associated with tourism.
- Someone wearing a heavy coat in hot weather.
- Anyone carrying unusually heavy bags or backpacks.
- Vehicles improperly parked or in spots not normally used for deliveries (MSNBC, 2004).
Date: January 24, 2010
Source: American Thinker
Abstract: The shopping malls of America will be among the next major terrorist targets.
Malls make such obvious high-value targets that it's difficult to grasp why they haven't been hit up until now. Shopping malls are America's marketplaces, constantly packed with people, with uncontrolled entry, and openly vulnerable to any given form of attack. We need only consider the darkest days of the Iraqi terror campaign of 2006-2007 to grasp how the jihadis view marketplaces. Scarcely a week went by without another Iraqi marketplace bombing, with casualties largely consisting of women and children, mounting from the dozens to the hundreds. We need only add the fact that the mall in many ways symbolizes the United States to people across the world, acting as kind of American Horn of Plenty, to see the inevitability of the threat. Such attacks will come, and they will be ugly.
Late last year, Tarek Mehanna of Sudbury, Massachusetts was arrested for, among other things, conspiring with Ahmad Abousamra and Daniel Maldonado to attack unidentified malls with automatic weapons. (Abousamra and Maldonado, who had received training in al-Qaeda camps, were evidently already in custody).
To combat a swarm of wasps, you don't call up a herd of rhinos. You gather a lot of people with rolled-up newspapers. At this point, our efforts against terror are reactive -- we may well have to endure a mall attack, with casualties possibly reaching the hundreds, before the federal government is forced to rethink its approach. When the time comes, the alternative strategy must be considered. With the American people, this country has a resource unparalleled across the wide world. It's about time we put it to use (American Thinker, 2010).
Title: US Malls Brace For Terrorist Attacks
Date: August 7, 2011
Source: ABC News
Abstract: A janitor spots an abandoned diaper bag lying on a table in the sprawling food court at the Mall of America. A bomb-sniffing dog and a security officer are there within minutes, examining the package while nearby shoppers are held a safe distance away.
No bomb. Case closed. But that scene is repeated at the nation's largest shopping center 150 times a month.
Years ago, lost purses or shopping bags would just go to the lost and found. But after the Sept. 11 attacks and a series of terror threats against malls, "we realized that bad guys don't write 'explosives' on the side of packages," said Maj. Douglas Reynolds.
He heads a 150-officer security force trained in Krav Maga, the official self-defense system of Israeli security forces. A plainclothes unit is solely devoted to behavioral profiling.
Terror threats against U.S. malls — federal authorities have charged suspects in at least three terror plots since the Sept. 11 attacks — have made huge behind-the-scenes changes to one of the most treasured American experiences — going to the mall.
Shoppers say they hardly notice the closed-circuit cameras, plainclothes officers and trained dogs, and believe the risk of getting attacked at a shopping center is remote.
"The average shopper, they don't walk in and think 'this could be the end,' " said Don Heinzman, 77, of Elk River, Minn., having coffee with two friends at the Minnesota mall.
But overseas, especially in places like Israel and Turkey, terror attacks in malls occur with frightening regularity. Experts are worried that similar acts will eventually become commonplace in the U.S. In 2004, an anonymous call threatening a Los Angeles plot sent more than 100 officers to protect various shopping centers.
Two Ohio men — originally from Somalia and Pakistan — are serving prison terms in a 2003 threat to bomb Columbus-area malls. Another suspect is serving a prison term for a similar plot against a mall 90 miles north of Chicago. A Massachusetts pharmacist is awaiting trial on terror charges; prosecutors said he conspired with others to shoot down shoppers in U.S. malls and kill U.S. troops in Iraq.
In a 2006 report, the nonprofit RAND Corporation think tank found that there were 60 shopping mall attacks in 21 countries between 1998 and 2005 and that U.S. malls may not be well-prepared for them.
The International Council of Shopping Centers trained some 10,000 mall officers between 2003 and 2009 to better recognize terrorists and other threats. Experts at George Washington University designed the $3 million program, which was discontinued because of a lack of funding.
Paul Maniscalco, a senior research scientist at the university who was involved in developing the program, called shopping malls "soft targets."
"I think they're as safe as any place else in the U.S.," he said. "Unfortunately in an open and free democratic society there's certain trade-offs. The concept of a shopping center is a pretty complex social icon within our society. You can't turn them into armed camps."
Malachy Kavanagh, the spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said the latest threat to public places in the U.S. is not from organized terrorist groups, but "lone wolf" individuals.
"A big part is to be aware of who may be watching your center," he said. Officers have to watch for people trying to engage guards in conversation, checking for security cameras, he said.
Reynolds said his officers need to cultivate a balance between securing a center and cultivating an open, family-friendly atmosphere (shoppers at the Mall of America can stop to ride rollercoasters at the mall's in-house amusement park).
"We're not designed to be Fort Knox," said Reynolds. "We need to be accessible and make people feel welcome — but still protected."
Christine Kimbrough 66, of Upper Marlboro, Md., stopped to look at a tall metal monument that resembles two doorways and a door.
The somber monument is a tribute to Bloomington resident Tom Burnett Jr., a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001.
Kimbrough read the monument's plaque and shook her head.
"You're always on alert," she said. "You have to be now."
Reynolds hopes shoppers think like Kimbrough. With 4.2 million square feet of space and more than 20,000 parking spots, it's difficult for his officers to see everything. He's instituted the so-called "RAM Unit" — short for Risk Assessment and Mitigation — which is a team of plainclothes officers who perform behavior profiling and who look for suspicious objects.
His officers don't carry guns but can make citizens' arrests under Minnesota law. There haven't been any terror arrests; most calls are about shoplifters, missing children and abandoned packages. Occasionally, the officers will confront a drunk and rowdy customer.
Reynolds said his officers must also be on the alert not just for terrorists, but for volatile workplace or domestic arguments that could result in a mass shooting.
The mall has a control center where dispatchers monitor 12 closed-circuit televisions and field the 120,000 calls for service each year.
Nearby, the bomb-sniffing dogs are in a separate office. Reynolds explained that he's transitioning from tough-looking Belgian Malinois dogs (similar to German Shepherds) to English Springer Spaniels and flat-coated retrievers, so that the dogs are perceived by shoppers as less aggressive and police-like.
"These dogs break hearts all day," he said, while patting Chuck, a four-year-old black and white spaniel.
If the client-friendly tactics sound like something out of Disney, that's because they are.
Reynolds has visited Orlando to learn from security experts there, and even uses some phrases similar to Disney's security force.
Officers who are patrolling the mall are "on stage," and inside the training room, there's a large word above the door that leads to the mall: "SHOWTIME" (ABC News, 2011).
Title: Feds: Holidays Could Tempt Terrorists -- But U.S. 'Not Aware Of
Date: November 24, 2011
Abstract: Terrorists could decide to launch attacks during the holiday season but the United States has no evidence any plots are being planned, according to a federal law enforcement intelligence bulletin issued Wednesday.
The Department of Homeland Security and FBI joint notice to local law enforcement partners says federal officials "are not aware of any credible threats to the Homeland specifically timed to coincide with the 2011 holiday season. " CNN obtained a copy of the document, which goes on to say intelligence received in the last year suggests "terrorists recognize that the large gatherings occurring during the holiday season provide an opportunity for mass casualty attacks."
During the May raid that killed Osama bin Laden, information was retrieved saying that as recently as February of 2010 al Qaeda was considering the merits of launching U.S. attacks on holidays such as Christmas. But officials don't know if that idea was broadly shared with al Qaeda foot soldiers and, if so, whether they were receptive to the idea. Some al Qaeda affiliates were reported to be more interested in launching attacks in their local regions and less inclined to attack the U.S.
The bulletin reminds law enforcement officers the U.S. stopped an alleged plot last year to set off a vehicle bomb at a Christmas tree lighting in Portland, Oregon. Mohamed Osman Mohamud goes on trial next year and has pleaded not guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. The DHS/FBI intelligence document says the Oregon incident is the first known plot by an alleged "homegrown violent extremist" that was planned to take place at a U.S. holiday event.
President Barack Obama and other officials have repeatedly said they are extremely concerned about so-called lone wolf offenders because their plots don't involve co-conspirators and are therefore extremely difficult to detect and stop. "We remain concerned that violent extremists could seek to conduct small-scale attacks during this year's holiday season," according to the DHS/FBI bulletin.
Officials warn that past al Qaeda propaganda has encouraged individuals to carry out terror strikes in their home countries involving simple improvised explosive devices or small arms. The intelligence document says such attacks "would not require overseas travel for training or communication with known terrorists."
The document advises local law enforcement to be vigilant and watch out for certain types of activity such as people buying commonly available chemicals that could be used to make bombs, or conducting surveillance of possible targets.Federal authorities have issued warnings in the past about possible terrorist activity at holiday time. This year marks the first Thanksgiving and Christmas season since the death of bin Laden (CNN, 2011).