NEW YORK—Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday that captive ISIL militants confessed to his intel agents of an alleged plot to attack subways in the United States and Paris, France.
“I’m receiving accurate reports from Baghdad that there were arrests of a few elements and there were networks from inside Iraq to have attacks—on metros of Paris and U.S.,” Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said in English. “They are not Iraqis. Some of them are French, some of them are Americans. But they are in Iraq.”
New York authorities responded quickly to reassure New Yorkers of their safety, and the safety of the subway system, emphasizing the threat is unverified. Gov. Andrew Cuomo rode the E train to prove his point, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, and other law enforcement officials gathered at Union Square.
A senior Obama administration official said no one in the U.S. government is aware of such a plot, adding that the claim was never brought up in meetings with Iraqi officials this week in New York. President Barack Obama met with Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi on Wednesday. The administration official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
There was no immediate comment from France. A half-dozen French officials contacted by The Associated Press said they knew of no plot.
Later, a senior Iraqi official in New York qualified the prime minister’s remarks. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make statements on the record.
“There were serious threats that were uncovered by Iraqi intelligence, and they were forwarded to the appropriate security authorities of our partners. A full assessment of the veracity of the intelligence and how far the plans have gone into implementation is ongoing,” the official said. “We cannot further discuss the nature of the threat in the media, except to reaffirm that Daesh [ISIL] will continue to endanger international peace and security unless it is eradicated.”
The many terrorist groups crawling out of the woodwork, the beheadings of hostages by the ISIL terrorist group, coupled with an aggressive U.S. military stance in the Middle East has already prompted New York and New Jersey’s governors to tighten up bi-state counterterrorism cooperation.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a counterterrorism agreement Wednesday that adds more policemen and soldiers to monitor public transportation.
Uniformed Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) officers will increase by 30 to 50 percent around commuter hotspots like Penn Station, where Cuomo was Thursday, and the New York and New Jersey National Guard troops will form a joint task force. Select PATH stations will have two-hour bag checks each day.
Cuomo went for a ride on the uptown E train Thursday afternoon to prove that the transportation system is safe.
“The New York subway system is safe to ride. I’m riding the subway system, and so should every New Yorker,” said Cuomo.
At a press conference in Union Square Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the alleged plot has not been verified and “people in New York should feel secure moving through the subways.”
“Terrorists wants us to live in fear, but we should go about our normal routines,” de Blasio said.
NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton, also at Union Square, noted that 450 subway stations have increased their resources as of Thursday, “to err on the side of caution.”
Christie said Wednesday at 7 World Trade Center announcing the new counterterrorism agreement that even thirteen years after 9/11, no one in a position of power should have any complacency.
Cuomo also urged New Yorkers to be aware of potential terrorist threats: “People should be concerned. They watch the nightly news.”
Cuomo even related the new measures to the events in New York earlier this week, where 400,000 climate change activists marched in Manhattan before the start of the U.N. summit.
“I would put this in a broader context. Since we talk about New York and the increase of climate change—expect more storms—I would say that about terrorism,” said Cuomo.
“Will there be people planning to attack New York? Yes! Certainly,” he added. “I think 9/11 was our first wake-up call. This is going to be the reality, we’re going to have to live with this.”
Additional reporting by Annie Wu and The Associated Press.