Once Again, Sears Tower Target of Plot
Jun. 23, 2006
CHICAGO (AP) _ It's the tallest skyscraper in North America, the most recognizable building on the Chicago skyline and the destination of thousands of office workers each day.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, those qualities have made the Sears Tower a tempting target to terrorists.
The latest alleged threat came from seven men arrested Thursday in Florida and Georgia and accused of plotting to bomb the 110-story Sears Tower and a federal building in Miami.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the men wanted to work with al-Qaida but ended up dealing instead with an informant posing as an al-Qaida operative. Federal, state and local authorities stressed that the Sears Tower was never in imminent danger.
``The bottom line is none of these plans materialized,'' said Chicago Police Superintendent Phil Cline.
The Sears Tower has come up in other investigations since 2001, though some of those cases turned out to be more hoax than plot. And Sears Tower authorities stressed Friday they believe it is a model for building security in the United States.
``Federal and local authorities continue to tell us they've never found evidence of a credible terrorism threat against Sears Tower that's ever gone beyond just talk,'' said Barbara Carley, the building's managing director.
A security guard was charged with telling a 911 dispatcher on Sept. 11, 2001, that he was a hijacker aboard a jetliner that he intended to crash into the Sears Tower. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years of probation for disorderly conduct.
Captured al-Qaida leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is alleged to have told interrogators that Osama bin Laden proposed several other targets for the Sept. 11 attacks, including the Sears Tower.
In another case, a man admitted last year that he falsely told federal agents his relatives were linked to bin Laden's terrorist network and were plotting to blow up the Sears Tower and other Chicago landmarks.
In Spain, a man accused of being an al-Qaida militant discussed from the stand last year his 1997 videotaping of landmarks such as the World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty and the Sears Tower.
Spanish authorities said the tapes were turned over to al-Qaida and used in plotting the 2001 attack against the trade center.
But the Syrian-born Spaniard, Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, testified that he took the videos as an awestruck tourist making his first visit to the United States, and he was acquitted last September of all charges against him, which included being an accessory to murder and of being a member of a terrorist organization.
Heading into the Sears Tower for work on Friday, several office employees said they have learned to deal with increased security measures and threats.
Andy Wederburg, 28, who works on the 87th floor as an account manager for Citigroup, called the latest arrests ``surprising but not shocking.''
``That's something you've got to deal with working in a building like this. It makes you think, but it's not going to make me stop doing what I got to do,'' he said.
Financial analyst Juan Cruz, 31, said he feels safe at work.
``This is the largest building (in the United States), so it's a target. But do I worry about it? Absolutely not,'' he said.
Security at the Sears Tower was ramped up after the Sept. 11 attacks, and the 103rd-floor skydeck was closed for a month and a half. Since then, large concrete planters and metal barricade posts have been installed around the building.
``They really do watch you when you come into the building. You'll have four or five sets of eyes watching you,'' Wederburg said.
John Huston, executive vice president of the Sears Tower, said that it was ``business as usual'' at the building Friday and that attendance was good at the skydeck on the 103rd floor.
Beth Follenweider, 40, has worked on the 42nd floor for four years. She said she was not too concerned about the most recent alleged plot, especially after hearing details of the defendants, who she said sounded like ``unorganized morons.''
``It doesn't sound they could have done much damage,'' Follenweider said.
Associated Press writer Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report.