Wall Street warned on Al-Qaeda threat
US security officials have warned Wall Street banks and their executives in recent weeks to tighten security, amid fears they could be targeted by Al-Qaeda, officials said Tuesday.
Counterterrorism agencies told financial firms to check for security soft-spots after an Al-Qaeda affiliated publication in January urged followers to target "banks" and "global corporations."
Experts from the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department have helped brief bank security officials on the threats, urging them to beef up mailroom and other surveillance.
The threats were made by the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), believed behind the October 2010 plot to send parcel bombs to the United States and a Christmas Day 2009 plot to blow up a plane over the United States.
"The threats were derived from AQAP's writings and past attempted attacks," said one US official who asked not to be named. "Of course we will continue to be vigilant and provide warnings of their violent intentions."
No specific banks were named in the article published in AQAP's "Inspire" magazine and purportedly written by Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-Yemeni radical Muslim cleric who has been described by the US government in the same breath as Osama bin Laden.
"All of our scholars agree on the permissibility of taking away the wealth of the disbelievers," Awlaki wrote, suggesting that government property, banks, global corporations and "wealth belonging to disbelievers with known animosity towards Muslims" should be targeted.
Another US official refused to comment on specific intelligence, but said "we often hear of different types of tactics and threats that are general in nature."
While US officials regularly brief bankers and other groups on potential threats, the "Inspire" article has pinched at long-standing concerns.
Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, terror suspects have been caught scouting targets like the Citicorp Center and the New York Stock Exchange.
Counterterrorism experts cite the threat of attack on the financial system's physical infrastructure and the complex web of electric transactions that keep the world's economies ticking over, but say the system is well-placed to cope.
According Rick Nelson of the CSIS think-tank in Washington, the financial system is now much better prepared since markets were shuttered in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"The financial companies have resources and they learned lessons from 11 September," he said.
"With a lot of the trading being done electronic these days, a lot of advances have been made to build redundancies into the system."
"Any attack could potentially be devastating, but it would have to be on the scale of 9/11 to disrupt the financial markets, particularly in New York City."
"They have also put significant protections in place, they don't want to be exploited or taken down by a terrorist or a criminal or competing financial entities."