Monday, September 12, 2011

Thieves Targeting Contractor Vans Raise Security Fears

Police have recovered two of the three missing vans stolen from a World Trade Center contractor, which raised security fears as the city marked the tenth anniversary of 9/11. None of the thefts were connected to a specific plot, but had unusual circumstances above the average stolen vehicle, authorities said.

Both vehicles were found empty and parked on quiet residential streets in Flushing over the weekend. A third is still missing. New Yorkers shouldn't expect security measures that made getting around difficult Sunday to disappear, though.

A green Econoline van stolen from World Trade Center contractor Tully Construction was found Saturday night, while police recovered a box truck - also stolen from Tully - Sunday afternoon. Both vehicles were found empty and parked on quiet residential streets in Flushing.

Tully Construction was one of four contractors chosen to perform the clean up work at Ground Zero after the Twin Towers collapsed, and is currently doing roadwork on West Street - directly adjacent to the 1 World Trade Center construction site.

The van was stolen on September 2nd, from a construction site on 94th Street near the Grand Central Parkway in Queens. At least three thieves loaded the van with more than $80,000 worth of equipment and tools, after finding the keys hanging from a ladder stored atop the vehicle, cops said.

They also cut the phone lines and alarms, before making off with the fully loaded vehicle, taking with them the surveillance video, in an extensive effort to cover their tracks - in a way that seemed different from the average grand larceny.

"These may be nothing more than industry-savvy thieves with an appetite for expensive construction tools but they're receiving greater scrutiny in order to eliminate the possibility of something more sinister," said a police spokesman.

Police in New York have been on a heightened state of security since Thursday evening after federal officials said they were chasing a credible but unconfirmed al-Qaida threat to use a car bomb on bridges or tunnels in New York or Washington.

Police patrols have been stepped up, and vehicle checkpoints now in place at all area bridges and tunnels. Scrutiny of all box trucks and construction vans entering Manhattan have been placed on highest priority.

Police are also sweeping all Manhattan parking garages and are immediately towing any illegally parked vehicles. More radiation detection equipment, as well as license plate readers, are now being used.

Calls of suspicious packages and vehicles have increased since the report was made public, but all have been false alarms, according to police. Detectives are also speaking with all area truck rental companies, fertilizer retailers and businesses that sell components that could be used to make bombs.

By Peter Coyne