NEW YORK In a city shaken by its deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11, police are promising an unprecedented security effort to try to secure a soft target spanning five boroughs and 42km: the New York City Marathon.
City officials have sought to calm the nerves of more than 50,000 runners and the huge crowds of onlookers expected to line the marathon route by insisting it will go off tomorrow without a hitch, only days after a truck attack killed eight people in lower Manhattan.
The security detail will include hundreds of extra uniformed patrol and plainclothes officers, roving teams of counterterrorism commandos armed with heavy weapons, bomb-sniffing dogs, and rooftop snipers poised to shoot if a threat emerges.
The New York Police Department is also turning to a tactic it has used to protect Trump Tower and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: 16-tonne rubbish trucks filled with sand and ‘‘blocker cars’’ at key intersections to prevent anyone driving on the course.
Marathoners from around the world who have been streaming into the city in anticipation of the race have expressed mixed feelings about running so soon after the carnage.
‘‘I can be really scared of it when I amat home and in front of the TV,’’ Annemerel de Jongh, 28, of The Hague, Netherlands, said as she picked up her race number at a Manhattan convention centre. ‘‘But when I amrunning, I feel maybe a little bit invincible, like nothing can happen to me. I can run away from it.’’
The NYPD has said it has no information pointing to any credible threat against the race. There is no question, though, that the course provides a security challenge, even for a police department with 35,000 officers.
Runners gather at Staten Island’s Fort Wadsworth, a former military installation now partially occupied by the US Coast Guard. From there, the course heads through residential neighbourhoods with hundreds of spots where an attacker could steer a vehicle on to the packed course. Streets leading to the course are closed, but on many of them, in most years, the only barriers have been blue wooden sawhorses and thin plastic tape.
The field is so big, runners start in waves, meaning some people will still be standing on the starting line while competitors in the wheelchair division are crossing the finish.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said the state police, the National Guard, the state Office of Emergency Management and other agencies will provide added security. The state police will also double the number of troopers posted at high-profile locations, including Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.
Wednesday’s attack, on a bicycle path away from the marathon route, by an alleged Islamic State supporter, ‘‘appears to have followed, almost exactly to a T, the instructions Isis has put out in its social media channels’’, said the NYPD’s top counterterrorism official, John Miller.
The shift away from sophisticated large-scale attacks like the one on the World Trade Centre’s twin towers on September 11, 2001 to smaller ones on soft targets had forced American law enforcement to become more adept at how to prevent and respond to terrorism, said Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham Law School’s Centre on National Security.
‘‘I don’t think people should be worried,’’ Greenberg said. ‘‘The police know what they are doing. Look at how few successful attacks there have been.’’
Safety adjustments made by organisers of the New York City Marathon following the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013 – such as banning backpacks and costumes – remained in place, said Chris Weiller, spokesman for New York Road Runners. Despite widespread news reports about the truck attack, the cancellation rate had remained about the same, he said.
New York Marathon entrant Kris Ledegen, 49, of Herdersem, Belgium, said he had never considered skipping the race. One of the women killed in Wednesday’s attack was from Belgium. The country was also REUTERS the scene of an attempted car attack this year in Antwerp.
‘‘It happened here, and it happened in Belgium as well already,’’ Ledegen said. ‘‘So it can happen anywhere.’’
Meanwhile, the sister of the Uzbek immigrant accused of the attack says her brother might have been brainwashed, and has appealed to US President Donald Trump to ensure he gets a fair trial. Trump has called for Sayfullo Saipov, 29, to receive the death penalty.
Speaking from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, Umida Saipova said she and her family had been shocked to see Saipov grow a long beard after he got married in 2013.
‘‘Perhaps he’s become part of some organised group. I don’t know, honestly, how long it will take for his head to get rid of that poison, but I’m sure he will come to his senses, God willing.’’
She said she had spoken with her brother the day before the attack. ‘‘He was in a good mood. It was a usual, good conversation.’’ AP, Reuters
A man runs along the West Side Highway bike path yesterday, past memorials to the victims of Wednesday’s truck attack, which killed eight people. The carnage has seen security stepped up along the route of the New York City Marathon.