NEW YORK — The city sidewalks here are dressed in holiday style — as well as dotted with blockades, bomb-sniffing dogs and heavily armed counterterrorism personnel.
It’s Christmastime in the city. Yet, in an area at risk for terrorism, that means a meshing of festive holiday displays and high-level security. That was especially apparent after Monday’s pipe bomb blast in which three bystanders were injured.
Akayed Ullah, the suspect in the attempted terror attack, told investigators he timed the assault to coincide with the Christmas season for the greatest possible effect, a law enforcement official, who was not authorized to comment publicly, told USA TODAY on Monday.
In turn, already-visible security measures were significantly bolstered.
“You’ll see additional officers out in force,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted after the explosion, which happened in a subway pathway below the Port Authority bus terminal. “The NYPD will secure all transit hubs and major sites in this city.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would increase security at "high-profile locations" across the state, including doubling the number of State Police Troopers assigned to major New York City transportation hubs.
This year, about 6 million visitors will descend upon New York City between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, estimates local visitors bureau NYC & Company. And while many New Yorkers are accustomed to pronounced security measures, seeing officers with large assault rifles standing near Christmas trees and colorful light displays can be jarring for tourists and locals alike. For those in New York City this holiday season, here’s what to expect:
Rifle-toting military and police: On Monday evening, heavily armed NYPD counterterrorism personnel stood just feet from revelers who were joyfully snapping pictures in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Gun-carrying guards were also stationed at transportation hubs and other heavily trafficked areas in the city.
Blockades outside of stores and holiday markets: A large NYPD barrier stands on the street just outside of a holiday light-clad Tiffany & Co. while white blockades line the street-side parameter of the outdoor Columbus Circle Holiday Market. The Union Square holiday market farther downtown also has protective boulders. "We want people to feel safe," Julie Feltman, executive director of Urbanspace, which runs the holiday markets, told WABC.
Police vehicles: Parked police cars with flashing lights sat close to the Rockefeller Center tree on Monday night. And late on Monday afternoon, a NYPD Bomb Squad truck remained outside of Port Authority. On Tuesday morning, at least seven police vehicles were near the Columbus Circle Holiday Market.
Yet, many visitors took the contrasts of holiday cheer and counterterrorism in stride.
The Winter Village at Bryant Park – located a couple blocks from the pipe bomb explosion – was filled with people hours after the blast. They strolled through small pop-up shops and skated on the central ice rink.
Betsy Bright, visiting from Nashville, said she wasn’t concerned about her safety.
"We went to see the Rockettes and after that we went to Grand Central Station, and now we're here at Bryant Park, and it's been a lovely day with no issues," she said. "I feel absolutely safe here with all the police officers."
Sarah and Rich Conley, of Niskayuna in upstate New York, were heading to the city via train to see their daughter when they heard about the explosion.
There was never a moment, they said, that they hesitated visiting.
Rich Conley said the extra police presence left him with the impression that the city is in a good position to handle potential issues.
"New York City does seem to have this sense of preparedness,” he said. “They're ready for just about any situation.”
Contributing: Matthew Diebel and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
Pipe bomb detonated at Port Authority in New York