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Suspicious activity reported involving ambulances

19 August 2004: The following alert was released by Westchester County Department of Emergency Services based on information from New Jersey authorities and should be practiced by all agencies.

Within the past week, the Office of Counter-Terrorism received three reports of suspicious activity concerning ambulances.

The most recent incident involved an individual who attended an open-house at an ambulance squad in Middlesex County . The man, who claimed he was from Pakistan and a physician,asked a series of questions to the squad members that related exclusively to the operation of the emergency vehicles, including the speed at which the vehicles responded to calls and the use of the lights and sirens. The individual appeared very nervous, did not ask about patient care, and left the premises when asked to complete a membership application.

The second incident occurred at a hospital in Essex County and involved an inquiry made by a male of Middle-Eastern appearance who was first observed standing near an ambulance at the emergency room doors while writing notes in a small notepad. When confronted by the vehicle’s operator, a firefighter/EMT, the man asserted that he was employed as an ambulance mechanic. He then asked where a nearby fire department serviced its vehicles. The man provided an illegible New York driver’s license when asked to produce identification before leaving the premises.

Lastly, OCT received information concerning an unusual attempt by three men of Middle-Eastern appearance to join a volunteer ambulance squad. The men expressed to squad members an “abnormal interest” in operating the emergency vehicles, and further insisted that the process by which they obtain the appropriate credentials and certifications to join the squad be expedited at their personal expense.

Due to the recent threat elevation to ORANGE (HIGH) for the financial sector and intelligence relating to the threat of Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs), any suspicious activity relating to emergency vehicles is of particular concern and should be reported to law enforcement immediately. As demonstrated by recent attacks in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and elsewhere, terrorist operatives worldwide continue to rely on VBIEDs as a method of attack. This tactic has been used here in the past, notably in the 1993 World Trade Center and 1995 Oklahoma City bombings.

The World Trade Center and Oklahoma City attacks were carried out with rented vehicles, highlighting the need for awareness among the car, truck, and limousine rental community of the potential for vehicle-borne attacks in the United States.

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