A counter-terrorism expert with 27 years with the NYPD told Brooklyn residents last week that 9/11 could have been prevented, and that another catastrophic attack on the city can be averted – if citizens remain alert.
“Could we have prevented it? Yes,” Inspector Philip Von Gostein told a meeting of the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association at P.S. 195. “We get complacent. You have to look at your surroundings. If something looks funny, it is.”
According to Von Gostein, Al-Qaeda is stronger today than ever before and present in every country around the globe.
But they’re not the only group in the world bent on death and destruction.
“There are a lot of terrorist groups out there and people that want to hurt us,” Von Gostein said.
To combat them all, Von Gostein said that NYPD detectives are presently investigating possible threats in numerous countries overseas while a staff of civilian analysts here at home is interpreting intelligence reports.
“Every terrorist incident in the world is studied here,” Von Gostein said. “We can, and we have prevented terrorist attacks.”
Local residents can help.
Most people probably already know that they should call 911 or 1-888-SAFE to report suspicious or unattended packages left on the street, trains and buses.
According to Von Gostein, however, too many people waste time first calling a friend or relative.
“We need that first phone call to be 911,” Von Gostein said.
Despite the fear that they generate, counter terrorist experts like Von Gostein remind residents that much is known about Al-Qaeda groups and their ilk.
Undercover terrorists like to live in diverse communities because it’s easier to blend in, for instance. They also like to strike on select dates that have some of significance to them.
The Madrid train bombers attacked on Election Day, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVie struck on the anniversary of the Waco raid, and the Columbine students planned to carry out their murderous rampage to coincide with Adolph Hitler’s birthday.
In Madrid, Von Gostein said that terrorists were able to drop off backpacks filled with explosives and then escape even though they were widely observed.
In London, however, citizens are much more conscious of terror threats, which is why terrorists groups resorted to suicide bombers to pull off their 2005 attacks.
Terrorists also favor simultaneous attacks. Should an individual or terrorist group launch a successful attack somewhere in the city, Von Gostein advises residents to immediately look to their own communities first.
“We don’t want to scare people, just pay attention,” Von Gostein said.
Just recently, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced some beefed up security in major transportation hubs around the city.
According to Von Gostein, there is currently no credible terrorist threat against the city, but that the heavy guns and dogs some have already observed during their daily commute serve to “help people keep up their awareness level.”
Above all, Von Gostein stressed the need for residents to “be aware of their own communities.”