Two vans stolen from a World Trade Center site contractor and a third taken from a storage facility in New Jersey were being specially investigated by the police department Saturday, after the federal government's tip of a possible car bomb on the 9/11 anniversary. Police in Washington D.C. were also searching for stolen vans.
None of the thefts were connected to a specific plot, but had unusual circumstances above the average stolen vehicle, authorities said.
One of the vans, a white Econoline, was stolen from Liberty Storage, a self-storage facility in Jersey City, N.J. on Aug. 21 and had Oklahoma plates, police said. Thieves cut the phone lines, alarms and took with them surveillance video, in what could be an extensive effort to cover their tracks in a way that seemed different from the average grand larceny.
The other two, dark green Chevy vans, were stolen Sept. 1 and Sept. 2 from Tully Construction, Co. Contractors, which has been involved in recovery work at the site and is currently doing roadwork on West St. near 1 World Trade Center.
The first van was stolen at an entrance ramp to the Long Island Expressway in Queens at about 3 a.m. on Sept. 1. The assigned driver was out of the vehicle and it was stolen, possibly with the keys in it, police said. The next night, at about 9:30 p.m., the stolen van was driven to a storage area used by Tully in Queens. At least three people are believed to have broken into lockers at the site, making off with roughly $70,000 worth of tools and stealing a second van from the location, police said.
"These may be nothing more than industry-savvy thieves with an appetite for expensive construction tools but they're receiving greater scrutiny in order to eliminate the possibility of something more sinister," said Paul Browne, the department's chief spokesman.
The two green vans had a red stripe on the body and a yellow turret light. No arrests have been made, and the vans have not been recovered.
Tully Construction was one of four contractors chosen to perform the clean up after the World Trade Center buildings collapsed. A message left with the company was not returned Saturday. A call to Liberty Storage was also not returned.
Police in the Washington, D.C., area were also searching Saturday for two U-Haul trucks stolen from a lot in Maryland.
Prince George County Police Department spokesman Cpl. Evan Baxter told Fpx News Channel that the case currently only involves stolen vans, but police are taking extra precautions due to new terrorist threats surrounding the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Authorities have no suspects in the theft. The owner of the lot near Temple Hills, Md., from where the vans were stolen confirmed that they had been taken and said he had spoken with the Department of Homeland Security about the theft.
Police in the Washington, D.C., area are stopping U-Haul vehicles and the Prince George County Police Department is working in conjunction with state and federal law enforcement, including the Department of Homeland Security, to find the vans.
Meanwhile, in New York City, police were searching Saturday for three vehicles stolen in August and earlier this month, the New York Daily News reported. Two vans were stolen on Sept. 1 from a Queens construction company doing roadwork near the former World Trade Center site, and a third was taken from a storage facility in Jersey City on Aug. 20.
New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said there were no concrete connections between the thefts and the new terror threats.
Police in New York and Washington have been on a heightened state of security since Thursday evening after federal officials said they were chasing a credible but unconfirmed al-Qaida threat to use a car bomb on bridges or tunnels.
Patrols were extended. Police set up vehicle checkpoints at bridges and tunnels, were sweeping parking garages and towing more illegally parked cars. More radiation detection equipment was being used, as well as license plate readers.
Calls of suspicious packages and vehicles were up, but all were false alarms, police said. Detectives were talking to truck rental companies, fertilizer retailers and businesses that sell components that could be used to make bombs.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly on Saturday at Police Headquarters in lower Manhattan where they discussed the security measures. Kelly brought Napolitano through the department's newly-constructed Joint Operations Center.