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Metro anti-terrorism teams to begin random bag inspections to avert attacks

In this video that was posted on the WMATA web site, Metro Transit Police Chief Michael A. Taborn discusses the newly added security measure.

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 9:44 PM

Metro anti-terrorism teams will immediately start random inspections of passengers' bags and packages to try to protect the rail and bus system from attack, transit officials said Thursday.

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Police using explosives-screening equipment and bomb-sniffing dogs will pull aside people carrying bags for the inspections according to a random number, Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn said. The searches might be conducted at one location at a time or at several places simultaneously. If people refuse, they will be barred from entering the rail station or boarding a bus with the item, Taborn said. The inspections will be conducted "indefinitely," he said.

Taborn told Metro's board of directors about the plan during a meeting Thursday. Metro had planned to implement random searches in 2008 during times of elevated threat levels but never conducted any.

Thursday's announcement came six weeks after federal law enforcement authorities arrested Farooque Ahmed, 34, of Ashburn in an alleged plot to bomb Metrorail stations in Northern Virginia. Last week, authorities arrested Awais Younis, 25, of Arlington County on accusations that he made threats on his Facebook page to place pipe bombs aboard Metro rail cars, according to court documents.

However, Metro Interim General Manager Richard Sarles said the inspections are not a response to any specific or heightened threat.

"It's good to vary your security posture," he said, noting that transit agencies in New York, New Jersey and Boston have successfully carried out random checks.

The inspections over the far-flung transit network, which has 86 rail stations and 12,000 bus stops, will be conducted by several dozen officers at most. Metro's trains and buses carry more than 1.2 million passengers every weekday, and officials acknowledge the limitations of the plan.

"This is just another method to sort of throw the bad guy off" by using the threat of a search to discourage bringing a bomb into the transit network, Taborn said. "We're not going to clog up the Metro system."

Riders consider impact

Metro riders had mixed reactions about the plan.

Sienna Reynaga, a 32-year-old writer from Reston, arrived at the West Falls Church Station with two bags of luggage after returning from Spain.

Reynaga said the inspections will be effective at one thing: slowing everyone down.

"I would have been mad today if somebody checked my bags," she said, laughing, "because it's cold."

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