As vote nears, chief warns of terror risk

Rubin is a Times staff writer.

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said Wednesday he believes that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden might try to influence next month’s U.S. presidential election through a terrorist attack or some less dramatic tactic.

“With so much at stake in these elections, Bin Laden will probably attempt to make his opinion count,” wrote Bratton in an article published on the opinion page of the New York Daily News. Bratton co-wrote the article with R.P. Eddy, former director of counter-terrorism at the National Security Council.

Deputy Chief Michael Downing, head of the LAPD’s anti-terrorism bureau, said the department had been “gearing up for some time” for the November elections.


Surveillance teams have been concentrated in the city’s financial district, he said. Communication with private security groups has also increased, and the department’s area commanders were briefed last week on the need to keep their officers vigilant, Downing said.

“We do not want them to be paranoid or anxious, but to orient our troops to potential threats,” he said.

Bratton and Eddy speculated that Bin Laden is looking to sway the election in favor of Republican Party candidate John McCain, since McCain “is more likely to engender Muslim anger and resentment than would his opponent.

“Put simply: Bin Laden probably realizes it could become markedly more difficult to paint the United States as the ‘Great Satan’ with a new president who is admired internationally,” they wrote. “The remaining 14 days before the elections should be seen as a time of high threat, and state and local police should be on high alert.”

If the terror group is plotting an attack, a likely target would be one of the United States’ financial institutions, Bratton and Eddy wrote. They called on local law enforcement agencies to increase surveillance of “high-value financial sites” and to bolster efforts to prevent truck or car bombings.

Bratton and Eddy pointed to past efforts by Al Qaeda to insert itself in elections.

In 2004, the terrorist group killed more than 191 people in a series of Madrid train bombings. The attacks, days before Spain’s prime ministerial elections, swung the election in favor of a challenger who was a harsh critic of U.S. foreign policy. And four days before the 2004 U.S. presidential election, Bin Laden issued a videotape addressing the American people.