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Boro security tightens as bombs fall

Security became the watchword at Queens’ bridges, tunnels, subways and airports this week as more National Guardsmen joined forces with local law enforcement officers to protect the city after the United States launched its retaliatory attacks on Afghanistan.

Police officers and National Guard troops randomly checked trucks, vans and cars entering Manhattan from Queens at one of several East River crossings, including the Midtown Tunnel, the Queensboro Bridge and the Triboro Bridge.

More than 150 National Guard troops patrolled LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports, where the Federal Aviation Administration imposed heavy restrictions on carry-on luggage and long lines formed as passengers went through new security procedures.

“New Yorkers have been reassured by the presence of the National Guard at our airports,” said Gov. George Pataki, “and I know these additional steps will further build public confidence in our great city.”

The air strikes on Afghanistan and its ruling Taliban forces, which are sheltering Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks, began Sunday.

Pataki called up hundreds of additional National Guard troops this week to beef up security at Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal, among other sites, in a move to complement the Police Department and the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Plainclothes officers at the city’s subways stations began wearing uniforms to create an identifiable police presence.

Police and guardsmen were in force at the Queensboro Bridge Tuesday morning. The traffic was light traveling out of Manhattan into Queens. But at the bridge’s Manhattan-bound entrance, cars, trucks and vans were backed up as police and guardsmen searched trucks and checked to make sure people were carpooling.

The travel regulations implemented by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani last week prohibiting single-occupancy vehicles from entering Manhattan from the East River crossings below 62nd Street and the Lincoln Tunnel between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. remained in effect.

“Generally the approaches to the major bridges and highways have slowed down,” said Dan Andrews, spokesman for Queens Borough President Claire Shulman. “Everyone has been cooperative, but there have been backups.”

He said the added security presence was necessary “for obvious reasons” and Queens residents “feel more secure.” Andrews urged everyone to be patient and put up with the inconveniences caused by the checkpoints.

He said that at Borough Hall there was an added police presence and anyone wanting to enter the building had to show some form of photo identification.

A spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said as soon as the hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, he was on the phone securing the borough’s courthouses and related buildings.

Police were stationed around the clock outside the borough’s mosques, where Muslim members overwhelmingly supported the bombing and decried the worst terrorist assault on U.S. soil.

“We have a heightened level of security at all of our facilities — our tunnels, bridges as well as ports,” said Dan Bledsoe, a spokesman for the Port Authority. “There are some things that are quite visible to commuters and travelers. It is clear that you see we are doing some inspections at the tunnels, bridges and terminals.”

He said other security restrictions had been put into place, which were not visible to the public that he would not discuss.

Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said the NYPD had remained at Condition Omega, its highest state of alert, since Sept. 11 when the Twin Towers collapsed.

He said the National Guardsmen at the bridges, tunnels and airports will help police officers move traffic and inspect vehicles. Kerik said the guardsmen might be able to free up police officers for other duties.

The borough’s 16 police precincts also bumped up security in response to the Sept. 11 attack as a precaution against terrorist acts.

Since the Towers toppled, the 111th Police Precinct in Bayside has been roped off by orange emergency lines, and police officers have been stationed at the front and rear entrances for security, Community Affairs Officer Santo Elardo said.

The new security measures were to continue indefinitely, Elardo said, because law enforcement locations are susceptible to bomb threats or other kinds of attacks as the United States retaliates for the assaults at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“Queens is a very patriotic borough,” said U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside). “There’s been overwhelming support.”

Kathianne Boniello and Dustin Brown contributed to this story

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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