Christmas mar­ket attack in Ber­lin prompts high se­cu­rity in U.S. ci­ties

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Tom Hays

new york» In the wake of the Ber­lin truck attack, po­lice de­part­ments around the U.S. are mak­ing a show of force at places where crowds gather at Christ­mas­time.

In New York City, po­lice dis­patched heav­ily armed coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cers to stand guard at crowded pop-up Christmas mar­kets in Union Square, Bryant Park and Colum­bus Cir­cle only an hour af­ter news broke Mon­day about the car­nage in Ber­lin, where a stolen truck slammed into a crowd and killed 12 peo­ple.

The po­lice depart­ment also has a pro­gram to en­cour­age truck rental com­pa­nies to re­port any sus­pi­cious in­ter­ac­tions with peo­ple want­ing to rent ve­hi­cles that might be used in an attack.

Mayor Bill de Bla­sio called the pre­cau­tions “a very sad re­al­ity.”

In Chicago, po­lice parked their ve­hi­cles di­ag­o­nally at the cor­ners of Da­ley Plaza to block any ve­hi­cle ac­cess to a Christmas mar­ket there. In San Fran­cisco, mo­tor­cy­cle and mounted horse units will were pa­trolling in high-traf­fic shop­ping ar­eas.

Frieder Frotscher, who owns a stand that sells Ger­man steins, has made the trip to the Chicago mar­ket from Sach­sen, Ger­many, for the past 21 years. He said he never con­sid­ered clos­ing af­ter what hap­pened Mon­day.

“I see all the in­creased se­cu­rity,” he said. “If we don’t come that means we would have reached the de­ci­sion that (the ter­ror­ists) want.”

In New York, a Colum­bus Cir­cle ven­dor said he wasn’t think­ing about the attack in Ber­lin.

“If some­thing hap­pens like that it could hap­pen any­where,” said Ar­mand Al­tan, 40. “We are open. There is no X-ray cam­eras or se­cu­rity check­ing every­body. Some­one could walk in­side with the vest or with the back­pack, you don’t know. So if we think like this, we shouldn’t go out­side from the home.”

Big ci­ties have been for­ti­fy­ing side­walks since the Sept. 11 at­tacks, in­stalling bol­lards and con­crete planters de­signed to pre­vent ve­hi­cles from driv­ing into pedes­tri­ans or the side of a build­ing. Parts of Times Square and a two-block stretch of Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue in front of the White House have been closed to traf­fic for years, partly as a pre­cau­tion against car bombs.

A re­cent post­ing in an English­language Is­lamic State mag­a­zine called this year’s Macy’s Thanks­giv­ing Day pa­rade “an ex­cel­lent tar­get” for a truck attack. That caused enough con­cern that po­lice used dozens of sand-filled dump trucks to block streets along the pa­rade route.

The NYPD pro­gram in­volv­ing outreach to truck­ing com­pa­nies was ramped up in July af­ter a man drove a rented, re­frig­er­ated truck weigh­ing about 20 tons into a crowd in Nice, France.

Since then, the NYPD has reached out to about 140 rental com­pa­nies and seven truck driv­ing schools in the city, giv­ing them the phone num­bers of de­tec­tives and en­cour­ag­ing them to use them, said Lt. Lu­cas Miller, who runs the In­tel­li­gence Di­vi­sion pro­gram.

The NYPD has re­ceived sev­eral calls from truck rental op­er­a­tions since the Ber­lin attack, Lu­cas said Wed­nes­day. The com­pa­nies were check­ing in, not of­fer­ing tips, “but that’s just the kind of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in­ter­ac­tion we want,” he said.

Jake Ja­coby, pres­i­dent of the Truck Rent­ing and Leas­ing Association in Alexan­dria, Va., said his group has worked with the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion and other fed­eral agen­cies to com­bat ter­ror.

The group has dis­trib­uted a brochure to its mem­bers about what should raise suspicions with renters. They in­clude at­tempt­ing to use cash rather than a credit card and in­quir­ing whether a truck can be mod­i­fied to carry heav­ier loads or go faster.

Any­body walk­ing in with­out a reser­va­tion should also get ex­tra scru­tiny and pos­si­bly be turned away, Ja­coby said. The group even sug­gests ask­ing cus­tomers how they plan to use a truck, he said.

“If they have trou­ble an­swer­ing that ques­tion, that’s a red flag,” he said.

Peo­ple place can­dles at a me­mo­rial Wed­nes­day near the Kaiser Wil­helm Me­mo­rial Church two days af­ter the attack in Ber­lin. Odd Andersen, Getty Images

Bebeto Matthews, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Po­lice are re­in­forc­ing Christmas mar­kets around New York, above, and other Amer­i­can ci­ties in the wake of Mon­day’s attack in Ber­lin.

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