This week Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned shoppers at the Mall of America to be “particularly careful” after Somali terror group al-Shabaab encouraged supporters to attack the Minnesota landmark. Al-Shabaab is the same group that claimed responsibility for the 2013 Westgate Shopping Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, that left at least 67 people dead.
Mall attacks can be particularly deadly due to the crowds and enclosed spaces at busy shopping center. There haven’t been any terrorist threats against Westchester or regional malls, and officials assure there’s no reason to fear any kind of impending attack.
“There is no suggestion or direct terrorism threat in our malls whatsoever,” said White Plains Public Safety Commissioner David Chong. Of course, that doesn’t mean local security agencies aren’t doing their due diligence regarding security: “We have been on heightened alert as a public safety department ever since before the holidays,” Chong said. As part of that heightened alert, his forces have teamed up with the NYPD in their SHIELD initiative to protect area shopping centers and monitor any possible terror threats.
“I’m confident that I have the resources and personnel in place to respond to incidents,” Chong said.
Westchester’s Ridge Hill in Yonkers
Other officials said they weren’t surprised by increased security at places like busy shopping malls.
“Frankly, this is nothing new,” said Malachy Kavanagh, a spokesperson for the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).
Kavanagh said malls across the country have implemented increased CCTV coverage, tactical training for security teams, and had reinforced buildings to withstand attacks. Regional malls like The Westchester and the Palisades have concrete and reinforced-steel bollards outside doors to prevent a vehicle from crashing through an entrance—something that happened during the Nairobi mall attacks.
If a terror threat was ever directed at a mall, Kavanagh said that police would increase patrols, security staff would be beefed up, and officers normally in plainclothes would switch to dress in uniform.
But it’s not just security’s responsibility. Kavanagh echoed Homeland Security Johnson’s comment that everyone has a role they can play. Kavanagh pointed to the 2010 Times Square car bomb attempt that was reported by a t-shirt vendor.
Chong also urged shoppers to be vigilant and report anything that seems off.
“The shopping public is our best friend, and if you see something we ask you to say something,” said Chong. “We’d rather respond to something and make sure it’s nothing.”