Near site of 9/11 attack, courthouse gets security pavilion

A new security pavilion was dedicated Wednesday at a federal courthouse where high-profile terrorism trials have taken place blocks from where the Sept. 11 attacks downed the 110-story twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Multiple airport-style screening machines await the more than 160 people who can fit inside a 3,250-square-foot facility alongside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse in lower Manhattan.

Chief Judge Loretta A. Preska told several judges and other courthouse employees at a ceremony that the attacks were a catalyst for the $11 million construction project.

She said the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Protective Service and others repeatedly noted since 2001 that one of the busiest courthouses in the nation failed to screen people for weapons and explosives outside rather than inside the building.

Preska said the project lacked funding for over a decade "despite the fact that some of the highest profile, most dangerous terrorist cases in the nation are resolved in this court, mere blocks from ground zero."

Those prosecuted at trials in the courthouse have included the only Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in a civilian court, a defendant in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people and Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, who served as al-Qaida's spokesman after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Preska said the money was made available after several politicians signed bipartisan letters calling for action and U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., publicly questioned a Government Services Administration official about failure to fund the project.

In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security said the courthouse was "susceptible to bomb threats."

Also speaking at Wednesday's ceremony, Serrano applauded the security improvement created by a steel, glass, bronze and stone structure that took nearly three years to complete.

"We are living through a period where we're still afraid of what's going to happen to us and we should be," he said.

"We are offering judges and the public a peace of mind," said Denise Pease, GSA's regional administrator.

U.S. Marshal Michael Greco said there are currently no credible threats to the courthouse, but the pavilion was needed to mitigate security threats.

"Any public area needs to be an issue of concern," he said.

He said reducing lines outside the courthouse in bad weather was important, too.

"We're also in the business of service," Greco said.