City Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. was turning in for the night when he was roused by the news that kept so many Queens residents up later than usual on a Sunday.
“I went to bed early because I wasn’t feeling well,” he said. “I woke up to the news I’ve been waiting to hear for 10 years.”
Osama bin Laden, the world’s most infamous wanted man and the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, was gunned down during a firefight that ensued in the raid of his Pakistan hideout by a U.S. Special Operations Navy Seal team on Sunday, May 1.
Initially elated and proud to hear what armed forces had accomplished, the councilmember’s thoughts soon turned to security – and about what must be done to keep the city safe.
Vallone, whose career in the City Council began with Primary Day on 9/11, said that while bin Laden’s death brings a measure of closure to some, it is merely a small part of an ongoing struggle against terrorism.
“We have to proceed with caution because al-Qaeda has become affiliated with largely independent terrorist cells. And as we’ve recently learned, some of those terrorists are homegrown right here in Queens,” he said. “We can’t let our guard down one bit.”
Chair of the public safety committee, Vallone plans to hold a hearing to examine safety improvements made since 9/11 and what still needs to be done. The hearing will be held in September, marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks – an anniversary made that much more poignant with bin Laden’s demise.
Tracked down, shot to death and buried at sea, bin Laden no longer lurks in the shadows and in the back of every New Yorker’s mind – however, the very real specter of terrorist retaliation was brought to life as he lay dead.
The State Department on Sunday warned Americans worldwide of “enhanced potential for anti-American violence” following the killing of the al Qaeda leader.
“Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens in areas where events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations,” the State Department said in a statement to Reuters.
The scene was relatively calm at the American Airlines terminal at LaGuardia Airport the day after bin Laden’s death on Monday, May 2. Travelers went about their business and a few members of the National Guard’s Joint Task Force Empire Shield patrolled.
Maceo Mitchell, 68, was walking to his gate in the terminal, traveling to Arkansas to see his sister-in-law.
“He was a horrible man, but it hasn’t changed my travel plans at all,” said Mitchell about bin Laden. “You have to live your life.”
In terms of increased security, he saw some soldiers around the terminal, but had seen them before on other occasions.
A police officer noted that there were additional cops at certain posts, but overall, security presence remained only slightly elevated.
“I am happy that the men and women who have been serving overseas have succeeded in this objective,” said Jon Joseph, 39, who was flying to the southeastern part of the country. “It’s a big win for us on a lot of levels.”
Deborah Perez, 21, who spent the weekend here with her friends, was headed back to Miami.
“We were in Times Square when we actually heard about it, so the crowd was crazy,” said Perez. “This is my second time going back to security because I had to re-check in some things that normally I take all the time.”
“It’s about time,” said Scott Smith, a firefighter from Chicago, about bin Laden’s death.
On his way back home, he noticed increased security, but said that his travel plans remained unaffected. – With additional reporting by Jano Tantongco