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Intelligence indicates malls targeted

The recent plot by an al-Qaida freelancer to blow up an Ohio shopping center and revelations that the Madrid bombers’ next intended target was a suburban mall – coming on the heels of the terror group’s reported plans to hit the U.S. hard this summer with a massive attack – is causing at least one congressman to demand security at the nation’s shopping malls be radically beefed up with high-tech, high-dollar equipment like that used in airports.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D.-N.Y., says the government’s indictment of Nuradin Abdi for plotting with al-Qaida to bomb shopping malls, coupled with recently uncovered documents showing the March 11 Madrid train bombers also planned to attack Parquesur, a large suburban shopping center there, are “clear proof” the U.S. is not doing enough to protect the nation’s shopping malls from terror attacks.

“Everyone who listened to the audio tapes released by the 9/11 Commission this week couldn’t help but feel their hair stand on end when they heard how unprepared we were to deal with an aerial attack,” Schumer said while standing in Greeley Square outside the Manhattan Mall in New York City. “More and more evidence is mounting that if they want to attack again, they’ll do it someplace closer to home like a shopping center. We’ve gone all-out to shore up air security, and now we have to catch up with mall security as well.”

According to a press statement, Schumer’s proposal includes:

  • Installing high-tech radiation detectors at malls in high-risk areas like New York.

  • Building a new generation of portable detectors and accelerating research into low-cost chemical agent detectors.

  • Creating evacuation plans for shopping centers.

However, when New York’s WABC-TV interviewed shoppers Sunday on the mall fear-factor, most didn’t sound too worried.

“I’m aware that it’s a problem,” J. Grier told WABC. “I feel very confident that we’re not any more safe than we were prior to 9-11; in fact I think we’re in greater jeopardy and I can’t let it stop me because life goes on.”

“Ya know there hasn’t been anything happening in a while around here and I think people have sort of put it out of their mind. I feel safe,” offered shopper Bruce Heron.

Schumer reportedly wants to spend about $1 billion on his plan.

Last week, the government announced it had indicted a Somali named Nuradin Abdi for conspiring with al-Qaida to bomb a Columbus, Ohio-area shopping mall. Abdi was indicted on four charges of providing material support to al-Qaida and two counts of visa fraud. Attorney General John Ashcroft also revealed Abdi’s relationship with Iyman Faris, an Ohio truck driver convicted last year of providing material support to Osama bin Laden’s terror group. Faris allegedly planned to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and purchased equipment for proposed al-Qaida attacks, according to documents unsealed last year in U.S. District Court in Virginia. Faris was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in May 2003 of conspiring with and providing material support to al-Qaida.

On another front in the terror war, documents recently recovered show the Spanish train bombers were also planning to attack Parquesur, a large suburban shopping center outside Madrid after their successful train attacks. The documents, recovered when seven of the Madrid terrorists blew themselves up during a police raid, reveal that the terrorists probably would have carried out the bombings had they not been surrounded by the police and decided to commit suicide rather than be caught.

After the Madrid attacks in March, Schumer says, he asked Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Commerce Secretary Don Evans to find a way to expedite development of devices that can detect traces of explosives, biological weapons and chemical weapons, without requiring that individual shoppers be screened.

“One thing the 9/11 Commission showed us this week is just how detailed al-Qaida’s detailed plans to attack us were. The terrorists are smart enough to hit us where we strongest, not where we are weak. That means we have to move on mall security, and do it now,” Schumer said.

Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have all said they expect another terrorist attack before the November election.

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