Iranian agents have been scoping out targets in New York City for years as part of planning for eventual terrorist attacks, according to officials.
A senior New York Police Department official says law enforcement has interviewed at least 13 people since 2005 with ties to Iran's government who were seen taking pictures of New York City landmarks, a move that police believe may be pre-operational surveillance.
Mitchell Silber, the NYPD's director of intelligence analysis, warned that the big apple could be the “ideal target” for Iran if tensions continue to escalate.
The incidents, which occurred between 2002 and 2010, involved videotaping or photographing New York landmarks, subways, and bridges, Silber told the House Homeland Security Committee in testimony prepared for a hearing in Washington today on the threat from Iran and Hezbollah.
Silber told Congress that New York's international significance as a terror target and its large Jewish population make the city a likely place for Iran or its proxy terrorist group, Hezbollah, to strike.
“The city remains the most likely venue for global tensions with Iran to spill over onto American soil,” Silber said.
Silber argued that Iranians may be using “diplomatic cover” to conduct “hostile reconnaissance” in the city, a form of surveillance that has been going on for some time, he said.
Silber pointed to an incident in February 2010, when federal air marshals found four people who said they worked for the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Co. videotaping and photographing the Wall Street heliport. One person held a camera at waist level, focusing on the structure and not the helicopters in the air, he said.
U.S. officials long have worried that Iran would use Hezbollah to carry out attacks inside the United States. The concerns have grown in recent months as tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalate.
Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she was concerned that Hezbollah would attempt a terrorist attack on American soil and that she had been in touch with U.S. Jewish groups. Napolitano said she wasn’t aware of any specific threats to the groups or other U.S. targets.
The Associated Press and Bloomberg contributed to this report.
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