Washington, Aug. 2: A security blanket was thrown over the most powerful symbols of western capitalism with a reminder to Americans to get used to living in a nation under the shadow of terror.
Intelligence warnings of al Qaida threats to attack the New York Stock Exchange, World Bank and International Monetary Fund sent a shiver through global markets after the US issued a “high” level threat alert.
“The reality of living in America after September 11 is that we have to accept the fact that from time to time we’re going to get information about attacks,” US homeland security secretary Tom Ridge said, greeting fellow citizens with the warning on breakfast television.
Citigroup Inc, the world’s biggest financial company with a large presence in India, in New York and the Prudential Financial building in New Jersey were included in the warning announced yesterday.
It was the first US terror alert to focus on a specific sector of the economy and the dollar slipped and stocks retreated.
Security fears also pushed up oil, a development that would cause jitters in the government in Delhi where pressure may mount for another round of price increase. The last revision was made only on Saturday.
The “high”, or code orange, threat level is the second highest in the US administration’s five-stage terrorism alert system . It represents a “high risk of terrorist attacks”.
The warning was based on the discovery of materials analysing how to attack buildings like the New York Stock Exchange.
“The quality of the intelligence... is rarely seen and it is alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information,” Ridge said.
At the IMF and World Bank, where security was already tight, extra policemen guarded entrances and stopped parking nearby. Both are within a few minutes’ walk of the White House.
At Queens in New York, where a Citigroup building towers above all around it, police helicopters circled overhead.
“I was a little scared coming to work today and wanted to stay home but my dad said, ‘Go to work. Don’t let those terrorists bother you.’ So here I am,” said Ann Buckley, taking a break outside the building.
City authorities said they were studying indications of possible bombing attacks using trucks. New York is already on a heightened state of alert because the Republican convention to launch George W. Bush’s re-election bid will take place there this month.
US officials have warned of possible attacks before the presidential election in November. Security policy has been a major issue in the campaign and some Democrats wondered if politics was purposefully getting mixed up with national security.
“I am concerned that every time something happens that’s not good for President Bush he plays his trump card which is terrorism,” said Howard Dean, a former Democratic contender for the White House.