Mayor calls for 'Blitz spirit' in New York

War on Terrorism: US Reaction
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New York, its nerves barely repaired after the murderous attacks on the World Trade Centre less than four weeks ago, gave a defiant show of going about its business as usual last night even as officials prepared to bolster security measures across the city.

The highest possible levels of vigilance were expected to be in place by this morning. The measures, including street closures around sensitive buildings and landmarks, were meant to protect against additional terror strikes. Almost 6,000 people died when terrorists steered two airliners into the World Trade Centre on 11 September.

For most of the city, however, it seemed much like a normal Sunday afternoon in autumn – the most normal, in fact, since the twin tower massacre. The smoke that for so long was visible over the southern tip of Manhattan was all but gone. So too in the brisk breezes was the smell of burning that hung over the city even last week.

The mood was set by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who took to the airwaves urging New Yorkers to carry on as normal. He made the appeal even as officials conceded that military strikes in Afghanistan had made renewed terrorist activity in the city more likely.

"The reality is we run risks every day when we walk down any street ... but you don't let that stop you living," he said. "Let's show the terrorists we are indeed the land of the free and the home of the brave."

Mayor Giuliani moved quickly to deny earlier reports that he had been preparing to essentially "lock down" the city in the wake of military action by sealing off large areas to normal traffic. Indeed, he said he was intending to reopen a few streets in lower Manhattan that had been closed off immediately after the twin towers collapse.

The Mayor was back at ground zero earlier to speak at an outdoor prayer service held for workers who are still sifting through the rubble at the site and load it into lorries to be taken out of the city. As for assuring the security of the city, the mayor said, "Everything is being done that can be done, people should go about their ordinary lives."

Mr Giuliani added also that he would not be cancelling the annual Columbus Day Parade scheduled to make its way down Fifth Avenue this morning. Indeed, the parade has already been made into a symbol of the city's determination to carry on as normal and to continue to appeal to tourists.

The Mayor compared what happened to his city to the Blitz in London in the Second World War. He said, however, that for the British, the dangers were more relentless and spread over a far longer period. "They were brave enough to go about their way of life and to keep it up and prevail," he noted. "And now we have to go about our lives."

At the moment that the first American and British munitions were dropping on the landscape of Afghanistan, the scene in New York's Times Square was one of familiar bustle. Tourists filled the pavements, the T-shirt stalls were jammed and a long queue snaked from the booth selling discounted tickets for Broadway's Sunday matinees.

The tourist energy, which contrasted with the gravity of the day's news being broadcast on enormous screens over Times Square, follows intense efforts by New York to lure back visitors.

Certainly, there were few signs that the American public at large was anything like "full of fear", as was suggested by Osama bin Laden in a previously taped statement released after the military strikes.

While ordinary people carried on with their routines, heightened security measures in place since 11 September were tightened further, following grim predictions from senior politicians and intelligence officials of a high probability of retaliatory attacks.

The State Department issued a statement warning that the air strikes might well result in "strong anti-American sentiment and retaliatory actions against US citizens and interests throughout the world".

Within minutes of the start of air strikes, barricades were thrown up around the State Department building in Washington, police strengthened security cordons around key public buildings across the country, and military aircraft patrolled over major cities and crowded sports events.

Armed soldiers were deployed for the first time yesterday at both La Guardia and JFK airports in New York. Soldiers began patrolling the facilities of the third main airport serving New York, at Newark, on Thursday.

Special medical teams were also in place to monitor admissions to hospital emergency rooms to speed reaction to any biological terror attack.

Several streets were closed in lower Manhattan in the area around the main federal facilities, including the court buildings as well as the New York headquarters of the FBI. All main streets around the United Nations remained sealed off. Officials are on high alert for possible car bombs or suicide bombings near sensitive city landmarks, such as the UN or the Empire State building.

According to news reports, US congressmen were told in an intelligence briefing last Tuesday there was a "100 per cent" chance of retaliatory action.

Richard Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said yesterday: "I don't know when or where or how, but you can just about believe that there are going to be more attacks. To lull the American people to sleep ... would be a terrible thing to do."