New York officials scramble to reassure city after security threat

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Former US Attorney General Eric Holder
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New York officials scramble to reassure city after security threat

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivers remarks on the second day of the 2016 Democratic National Convention at Wells Fargo Center on July 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25.

(Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)

Attorney General Eric Holder announces he is leaving the Department of Justice while U.S. President Barack Obama looks on.

(WhiteHouse.gov)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder arrives to talk to the media about the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, and to announce pilot cities for DOJ program to build trust between law enforcement and communities they serve, at the Justice Department in Washington March 12, 2015. Holder said on Thursday the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, was a "heinous assault" that threatens reforms under way in the city.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Orlando July 16, 2013. Holder told the major civil rights convention that controversial "Stand Your Ground" self-defense laws that have been adopted in 30 states should be reconsidered.

(REUTERS/David Manning)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (L) shares a laugh with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at an event in Chicago, Illinois July 2, 2014.

(REUTERS/Jim Young)

Eric Holder (L) is sworn-in as US Attorney General by US Vice President Joe Biden (R) as Holder's wife, Sharon (C) holds the Bible during ceremonies on February 3, 2009, at the Justice Department in Washington, DC.

(PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

A packed room watches Holder's speech.

(WhiteHouse.gov)

Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama, captures a moment of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as Obama mentions Holder's presence at a town-hall meeting with students and Columbia area youth leaders about the importance of community involvement at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina March 6, 2015.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Attorney General Eric Holder makes a separated statement on the unrest after the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, during a major financial fraud announcement press conference August 21, 2014 at the Justice Department in Washington, DC. Holder spoke on the current situation in Ferguson one day after his visit to the town and met with Browns family, saying the investigation of the shooting will be thorough and will be fair, and Department of Justice stands with the people of Ferguson.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (R) embraces President Barack Obama after the president announced Holder's resignation in the White House State Dining Room in Washington, September 25, 2014.

(REUTERS/Larry Downing)

US Attorney General Eric H. Holder is sworn-in during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. Holder and other members of the Obama administration are being criticized over reports of the Internal Revenue Services'(IRS) scrutiny of conservative organization's tax exemption requests and the subpoena of two months worth of Associated Press journalists' phone records.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Department of Justice May 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. During the event Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas administered the Oath of Citizenship to approximately 70 new U.S. citizens.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during the second day at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 26, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder returns an acknowledgement from President Barack Obama at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner in Washington September 27, 2014.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder arrives at the 46th NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena, California February 6, 2015.

(REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)

Eric Holder (L) is sworn in as U.S. Attorney General by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) at the Justice Department in Washington February 3, 2009. Holder's wife Sharon (C) holds the Bible during the swearing in.

(REUTERS/Jason Reed)

U.S. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder attend the National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the Capitol in Washington May 15, 2013.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is trailed by reporters upon his arrival on Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Washington March 6, 2015. Holder had accompanied U.S. President Barack Obama for the day to Columbia, South Carolina.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Attorney General Eric Holder (R) and his wife Sharon Malone attend the unveiling of Holder's official portrait with the artist Simmie Knox (L) at the Dept. of Justice, in Washington, February 27, 2015. Holder, the first African-American attorney general, serving since 2009, will be succeeded by Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman to hold the position if confirmed by the Senate.

(REUTERS/Mike Theiler)

U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch (C) speaks as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and retiring Attorney General Eric Holder (L) look on, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington November 8, 2014.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

United States Attorney General Eric Holder (L) participates in a selfie with Ju Hyeon Seo (R) during a ceremony for 70 citizenship candidates at the Justice Department in Washington July 22, 2014. Ju was formerly a South Korean citizen.

(REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

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BY ELLEN WULFHORST

(Reuters) - A warning by Iraq's prime minister that Islamist militants planned to attack New York City sent political leaders scrambling on Thursday to assure the public it was safe to ride the subways and travel the streets of the nation's largest city.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio each had the same idea - take a subway ride to a busy transit hub to announce that everything was under control.

"I have a simple message for all New Yorkers. There is no immediate credible threat to our subway system," de Blasio said at a hastily arranged news conference at Manhattan's Union Square where he arrived by subway from City Hall.

A few minutes earlier, and a few blocks away, the governor staged his appearance by taking a subway to Penn Station, a major rail terminal.

"You are going to see a greater police presence than you have seen before," Cuomo said. "Don't be alarmed. If anything, that should be comforting."

While the newest threat was unsubstantiated, the added police presence was a precaution, said New York Police Commissioner William Bratton, who appeared alongside the mayor.

Their public reassurances were reminiscent of pronouncements by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani when New Yorkers, devastated by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, were fearful of further devastation to the city.

The security concerns arose after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraq had received what he termed credible intelligence that Islamic State militants planned to attack subway systems in Paris and the United States.

Senior U.S. and French officials promptly said they had no evidence to back up the claim. Abadi made his remarks while in New York for the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.

Extra police patrolled among crowds of commuters and tourists dragging luggage through busy subway hubs and at Penn Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal during the evening rush hour.

Uniformed officers, several with explosive-sniffing dogs, were stationed every few hundred yards, with tables set up to conduct random bag searches.

New Yorker Richard Betancourt, 64, gave a thumps-up to a group of police officers keeping watch at a 42nd Street subway.

"They'd be stupid not to go for it," he said of the visible security presence. "New York is the No. 1 target."

"It's something that these nut jobs might see, and then they'll think twice before they do anything, if they have any brains," he said.

The police commissioner said security would be added throughout the city, with heavily armed teams of counter-terror police, stepped-up searches and coordination with private security workers.

Additional security was planned for Yankee Stadium, where baseball star Derek Jeter was to play his last home game before retiring at the end of the season.

Cuomo said authorities already had boosted security in response to potential threats from Islamic State and other militant groups. The New York governor, together with his New Jersey counterpart, Chris Christie, announced a bi-state initiative to that end on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Frank McGurty; Editing by Ken Wills)

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