WASHINGTON – Asking for increased vigilance in the wake of the London bombings (search), the government is warning that terrorists may pose as vagrants to conduct surveillance of buildings and mass transit stations to plot future attacks.
"In light of the recent bombings in London, it is crucial that police, fire and emergency medical personnel take notice of their surroundings, and be aware of 'vagrants' who seem out of place or unfamiliar," said the message, distributed via e-mail to some federal employees in Washington by the U.S. Attorney's office. (search)
It is based on a State Department report that was issued last week. The State Department had no immediate comment Monday.
The warning is similar to one issued by the FBI (search) before July 4, 2004 that said terrorists may attempt surveillance disguised as homeless people, shoe shiners, street vendors or street sweepers.
The e-mail stresses that there is no threat of an attack and that it is intended to be "informative, not alarming."
Homeless people easily blend into urban landscapes, the message said.
"This is particularly true of our mass transit systems, where homeless people tend to loiter unnoticed," the e-mail said.
It referred to a recent incident in Somerville, Mass (search)., in which a police officer became suspicious about someone dressed as a street person. The officer questioned the man, discovered he had a passport from a "country of interest" — typically a Middle Eastern or South Asian nation — and a checkbook with a questionable address, the e-mail said. The investigation is continuing, it said.
Somerville police did not immediate provide comment.
Three British citizens were indicted in the United States earlier this year on charges they conducted surveillance of the New York Stock Exchange (search) and other East Coast financial institutions in 2000 and 2001.
Discovery of the alleged terrorist plan last year prompted the Homeland Security Department (search) to raise the terror alert for the targeted buildings, located in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J. Security in those cities also was tightened.
Homeland Security also raised the terror alert for mass transit following the July 7 bombings in London. The alert was lowered on Aug. 12.