Experts: Hard to stop NY's bicycle bomber

Mar. 7--How do you stop a guy on a bicycle who sets off a bomb in the middle of the night at the "crossroads of the world?" You just might not be able to, at least not in a free society, according to security experts.

The bicycle bomber has everything going for him -- he strikes when most of the city is asleep, he gets around on something that's easy to maneuver, and he appears to be in no rush to become famous, as he has yet to proclaim responsibility for any of three explosions that police said may be connected to him.

Before dawn yesterday, a small bomb caused minor damage to the military recruiting station at Times Square, and police were searching for the hooded bicyclist seen on a surveillance video pedaling away.

"There is only so much we can do, unless we want to turn America into a police state," says PJ Crowley, director of Homeland Security at the Center for American Progress, a think thank. "There's a limit to what you can do, but you can learn from what does happen."

The bomb used in the Times Square attack, police said, was similar to those used in blasts at the British consulate in 2005 and the Mexican consulate in 2007. Each of the three bombings involved homemade explosives and occurred at the same time of day. A man riding a bike is a suspect in all three attacks.

The NYPD altered its approach to thwarting domestic terrorism when the British consulate was hit, according to police sources.

Before then, the NYPD had contacted or visited more than 25,000 businesses, often out of state, imploring merchants to report any thefts or purchases involving, among other items, scuba equipment or chemicals that can be used to make bombs.

The consulate bombing, however, forced the NYPD to also look close to home, watching for young activists as likely to show up at a Lower East Side political rally as at an upstate fertilizer distributor, sources said.

Police will likely take some further security measures. There are two NYPD security cameras in Times Square, one of which is constantly monitored, sources said, and the NYPD will now consider adding more.

And for at least the time being, police officers will be posted outside any number of recruitment centers, or at least periodically stop there during their patrols.

Sources also said such centers in symbolic locations will be urged to install bomb-resistant windows and their own surveillance cameras.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said he agreed with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's assessment that the bombing shouldn't be cause to move the recruitment center from Times Square.

Joseph King, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the former head of security for New York's Department of Homeland Security office, said such a public posture sends the appropriate message.

"We should not be hiding it," King said. "We should not be giving in. It should be proudly displayed."

King said there are simply not enough resources to guard every target in the city around the clock. "A lot of what Kelly does, such as with roving patrols, can be disruptive to someone's plan," King said. "But a guy on a bike at 3 o'clock in the morning on an unprotected target?

"It's almost impossible."

Copyright (c) 2008, Newsday, Melville, N.Y. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.