NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday that captive Islamic State militants told his intelligence agents of an alleged plot to attack subways in the United States and Paris, France.
Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said he was told of the purported plot by officials in Baghdad, and that it was the work of foreign fighters who had joined the Islamic State group in Iraq, including French and U.S. nationals. Al-Abadi’s assertion has not be independently confirmed by U.S. government intelligence.
Asked if the attacks were imminent, he said, “I’m not sure.” Asked if the attacks had been thwarted, he said, “No, it has not been disrupted yet— this is a network.”
“Today, while I’m here 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.,” al-Abadi said, speaking in English. “They are not Iraqis. Some of them are French, some of them are Americans. But they are in Iraq.”
Al-Abadi said the United States had been alerted. He declined to give the location in the U.S. where such an attack might occur.
He made the remarks at a meeting with journalists on the sidelines of a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly.
A senior Obama administration official told The Associated Press 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 al-Abadi Wednesday.
The administration official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office released a statement saying that “the city takes any threat seriously.”
At a news conference outside the Union Square subway station Thursday afternoon, de Blasio worked to calm the nerves of New Yorkers after news of the alleged plot, saying city officials have found no specific threat.
“We are convinced that New Yorkers are safe,” he said. “We are convinced that people should go about our normal routine. Terrorists want us to live in fear. We refuse to live in fear.”
The mayor also stressed the importance of the subway system’s “see something, say something” motto.
“The people of this city have an important role to play,” de Blasio said. “The phrase, ‘when you see something, say something’ is not an empty phrase. It is real.”
Joining de Blasio at the news conference, police Commissioner Bill Bratton echoed the mayor’s statements.
“At this time, the people of this city should feel very comfortable and secure moving through the subways,” he said.
Bratton said New Yorkers would see stepped-up security across the city and in all subway stations as a precaution.
As CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported, all Emergency Services officers are being deployed, additional bag checks are being performed inside subway stations and heavily-armed NYPD Hercules teams are being deployed across all five boroughs.
While many subway riders are anxious, not all of them are concerned.
“I’m a little leery getting on the subway, but it’s a way of life here,” one subway rider told CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes.
Rep. Peter King, a member of the Homeland Security Commission, told CBS 2 that he has not seen evidence of an imminent threat against the United States.
“I have been aware that there are plots that ISIS is planning overseas against other countries,” King said. “Quite honestly, I have not been advised of this — and I have been checking this out. I don’t believe that the U.S. government has been advised of an imminent plot.”
“Anything involving ISIS is taken seriously and there is absolutely no evidence at all that there’s any validity to what the prime minister said,” King told 1010 WINS.
“It could be speculation in Iraq. It could be conversations where they were talking about it as aspirational. But as far as it being in motion, I don’t believe it is,” King added.
King said the nation must be on guard, but that the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies have not put out any advisories of an imminent threat against the U.S.
“If they thought it was imminent, they would be contacting New York state, New York City as soon as possible because when you’re talking about a subway attack obviously New York is always what first comes to mind,” King said. “We have at least 5,000 entrances and exits to train stations in New York, millions of commuters every day, millions of riders on the trains, so they would be first notified.”
The FBI is looking into the alleged plot.
“We are aware of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s statements and are in contact with our law enforcement and intelligence community partners as we assess the validity of this threat,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said in a statement. “The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, along with the New York City Police Department, remain committed to protecting this city.”
The NYPD released a statement saying, “We are aware of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s statements and we are in close contact with the FBI and other federal partners as we assess this particular threat stream. New York City normally operates at a heightened level of security and we adjust that posture daily based on our evaluation of information as we receive it.”
“We’re going to have to grill down and get as much information as possible, of course,” former NYPD Commissioner RayKelly told 1010 WINS. “We’ve had plots against the subways in New York, and thankfully they haven’t come to fruition. But it’s something that we can’t totally discount.”
Kelly told 1010 WINS the way the information of the alleged plot came out is unusual.
“I think this report took the intelligence community by surprise, and they’re scrambling now to see if there’s anything to it, how credible it is,” he said. “This was not an item that had previously been discussed or on their agenda, certainly not in a recent path.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York is acting with the “utmost precaution.”
“There is no specific credible information about any specific threat to the NYC subway system. The NYC subway system is safe to ride,” Gov. Cuomo said, trying to calm nerves as he rode the E train with the MTA chairman Thursday.
“Our administration has been coordinating at a high level with local, state and federal partners. I want to assure the people of New York that we are monitoring these reports closely and are in close communication with officials in Washington,” Cuomo stated. “Public safety is paramount, and we are doing everything necessary to protect New Yorkers.”
The news comes a day after the governors of New York and New Jersey came together to announce a substantial increase in security at local bridges, tunnels, airports and mass transit hubs, including Penn Station and Grand Central Station.
Cuomo and Gov. Chris Christie said the ramped up security was not a result of any particular new intelligence.
It is unclear if that increase in security is related to the announcement made by Al-Abadi Thursday, CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes reported.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has ordered state police to increase their presence along rail lines and at Bradley International Airport He said he issued the order in light of events overseas and out of abundance of caution. He said there is no credible threat against Connecticut and the measures are precautionary.
The Islamic State extremists’ blitz in Iraq and Syria prompted the United State to launch airstrikes in Iraq last month, to aid Kurdish forces who were battling the militants and to protect religious minorities.
In addition to the brutality Islamic State has visited on the people in Iraq and Syria, western leaders have voiced concern that the group would move its terror operations outside the region.
This week, the U.S. and five allied Arab states expanded the aerial campaign into Syria, where the militant group is battling President Bashar Assad’s forces as well as Western-backed rebels..
Western leaders have voiced concern that the Islamic State group would move its terror operations outside the Middle East.
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