New York subway system seen as likely bioterror target

The possibility that the New York subway system could be the next target of a terrorist attack has lead to a new acceptance of suspicious package alerts, bomb-sniffing dogs and cameras trained on commuters and passengers.

Since the terrorist attack that brought down New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, subways have been targeted for attacks multiple times. Mass transit lines in Madrid, London, Moscow and, this spring, Minsk, Belarus, have all seen attacks in the last decade, according to

New York Police Department officers with heavy body armor and high-powered rifles and police commanders carrying smart phone-size radiation detectors have become commonplace.

Authorities said that a serious attack on New York's 24 hour subway system, which has more than 400 stations, could cripple the city in worse ways than the 2001 attack. The system is the largest in the United States, with more than 800 miles of track. Last year, it carried more than 5.2 million passengers on an average weekday, more than double the number that pass through U.S. airports every year.

“It's really a potentially very vulnerable environment — one that you can't totally protect," William Bratton, a security firm executive who was chief of the New York City transit police, said, reports. "That's the reality of it. It's a unique challenge."

So far, no one has pulled off such an attack in New York City, but there have been a number of scares. In 2010, a homegrown al-Qaeda operative, Najibullah Zazi, pleaded guilty to plotting a rush hour suicide attack. In 2004, the NYPD foiled a bomb plot at Manhattan’s Herald Square subway station.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelley said that the NYPD is going to extraordinary lengths to make its presence known in the subways in order to give terrorists something to think about.

The new counterterror arsenal includes more than 30 dogs trained to smell for explosives, silent alarms and motion detectors to prevent tampering with ventilation systems, and a vast number of security cameras with live feeds.

Random bag searches, once challenged as a civil rights violation, are conducted tens of thousands of times every year with barely a complaint made against them, reports. The department has also started using high-tech detection devices to screen riders for peroxides or nitrates common in homemade explosive.