Mall terrorism warning downplayed

FBI says al-Qaida may be targeting shoppers this holiday season

Published: 11/9/2007 12:18 AM

Local and federal authorities are downplaying a new FBI warning about a possible al-Qaida plot to attack area shopping centers during the holiday season.

An intelligence report issued to law enforcement officials across the country Thursday advised that the terrorist group may be preparing a series of mall attacks in Los Angeles and Chicago.

"Al-Qaida hoped to disrupt the U.S. economy and had been planning the attack for the past two years," the warning states.

FBI officials, however, issued a statement Thursday to downplay the possibility of Christmastime attack.

"This document was intended for law enforcement and intelligence community partners for situational awareness," the statement says. "In this post 9/11 era sharing information is our top priority. Al-Qaida messaging stated they intended to attack the U.S. or its interests. However, there is no information this is a credible threat."

Authorities said the possible plan came to them through third-hand information and there were no specific targets named. Similar threats have been made during past holiday seasons.

In Schaumburg, Woodfield Shopping Center officials said they already have security plans in place for any possible attacks. The plans were implemented six years ago and occasionally are adjusted to reflect the current threat level.

"Woodfield has been at heightened alert since 9/11," mall General Manager Marc Strich said. "We are aware of the current warning and it reinforces the measures we already have in place."

During the holiday season, the shopping center routinely steps up its security plans, Strich said. The mall security, for example, eschew all tasks that aren't directly related to public safety in order to better protect customers.

Even though federal authorities said there are no credible threats, Strich said Woodfield -- one of the state's top tourist attractions -- has a responsibility to be prepared for any emergency.

"Woodfield is a prominent property and we understand that," he said. "I feel very confident with the measures we have in place."

Officials at several other area malls did not respond to messages seeking comment on the FBI warning.