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Bin Laden death spawns new fear, dread

File photo of Osama bin Laden during April

File photo of Osama bin Laden during April 1998. Photo Credit: AP

Jubilation and a feeling of triumph seized many Americans after the killing of Osama bin Laden, but for some the death of the terrorist mastermind has spawned fear of retaliation and awakened the sense of insecurity and even dread they experienced a decade ago.

Calls for help from survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, first responders and those who lost family have increased since the killing, said Thomas Demaria, a psychologist who teaches at Long Island University's C.W. Post Campus. Demaria has counseled the 9/11 community for nearly a decade.

He said people need not have lost a friend on 9/11 or escaped the Twin Towers to be similarly affected. "People kind of get transported to where they were back then," Demaria said of the killing's impact. "It was a time of tremendous fear and anxiety. We were ambushed."

Demaria said he's seen contrary responses around the themes of safety and power. With bin Laden dead, some feel greater security, he said, while others are afraid that his supporters will try to get back at America as they have pledged.

"So it's living with that doubt again, that insecurity again," he said. Terrorism, he said, "wants to breed fear."

On Friday, after the news that U.S. railroads were one of bin Laden's proposed targets, Bahar Kordnejad, 25, of Roslyn Heights was gripped with worry. "I've been panicking," she said. "Right now for sure I'm not going to be using the train for a while and I'm not going to go to the city at all."

She's not alone. A New York Times/CBS poll last week found that a vast majority of Americans do not feel personally safer now than before bin Laden was killed. Only 16 percent said they did feel safer.

More than six in 10 Americans in the same poll said they believe killing bin Laden likely would increase the threat of terrorism against the United States.

Curtis Reisinger, a psychologist at North Shore LIJ Health System who has treated trauma victims and directs the system's employee assistance program, said for those who may have buried their initial emotional response to 9/11, the bin Laden killing could awaken those feelings, causing people to be anxious and unable to sleep.

"They just start thinking about it over and over again," Reisinger said.

Dr. Gregory Jantz, who runs a mental health residential treatment center outside Seattle, said the center has seen a substantial increase in calls in the last few days from people feeling the effects of anxiety and PTSD.

"This is a tipping point for them," he said.

Revisiting the trauma

The bin Laden death has thrust some people back in emotional time, overcome by feelings of powerlessness associated with the trauma of 9/11, said Demaria.

Mark Goldberg was an investment banker working on the 22nd floor of the north tower when it was hit. He's struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and the feeling that too little has been done to help 9/11 survivors like himself.

"It brought back a tremendous amount of energy from back then," Goldberg, 54, said of bin Laden's killing. Goldberg, who lives in Middle Village, Queens, and now runs a marine salvage company, said anger was the feeling that returned with most force. "Not specifically because of him, because he was responsible, but anger at the whole situation."

Robert F. Bornstein, a professor of psychology at Adelphi University who has studied the impact of terrorism on mental health, said 9/11 is without precedent in its impact on the national psyche.

It was a "flashbulb moment," he said, and people recall exactly where they were when they learned America was being attacked.

Sept. 11 "really changed fundamentally the way we see our vulnerability and our mortality," Bornstein said. "After 9/11, people in the New York City area, in the Washington area, in particular, were never going to be able to return to the old way of thinking, which was that America was a fortress impenetrable."

Reisinger of North Shore LIJ said those struggling with bin Laden's killing and feelings 9/11 may evoke can get help.

"By redirecting the way you think about a situation," he said, "you can actually moderate those fears. You have to appeal to the logic that gets you through the day. Just because you worry that there may be retaliation does not mean you have to start stocking up on food stuffs for the next two years."

Perhaps the most common coping mechanism for the fear of arbitrary and sudden violence lies somewhere between fatalism and pragmatism.

"I always think about it, but I can't change what I do every day," said Tom Krauss, 61, of Roslyn, a retired bank vice president, before he stepped onto a Long Island Rail Road train. "You can't change your life. That's the bottom line."

Still haunted by 9/11

Dana Lizzul, 45, Dix Hills, lost her brother, Martin Lizzul, on Sept. 11. He worked for Kestrel Technologies.

Right after Sept. 11, Dana Lizzul had nightmares -- when she could sleep at all -- in which a limb was missing or her face disfigured. The worst of them have dissipated, but Lizzul, who described herself as the worrier of the family, is still worrying.

"My boyfriend works on Wall Street and my brother-in-law takes the LIRR to Penn Station every day," she said. "It's not something I'm obsessing over, but it's in the back of my mind. What are they going to do to us now?"

She said she tries to talk her widowed mother Julia, 71, out of taking trips abroad with a group of women she met in 9/11 survivor groups. Her sister Susan, 47, goes into the city once a month for a dinner and show with friends.

"They are the opposite of me, they're not worriers."

Bahar Kordnejad, 25, Roslyn Heights:

Since the news reports about bin Laden's desire to attack railroads, Kordnejad has "been panicking," she said. "I go to the city every weekend with my friends and we take the train . . . We had the discussion of how we should drive instead. Now I'm a little panicked to even go to the city.

"The thing is, I'm of Muslim background myself. My family is not religious, and I started totally disconnecting myself from my background.

"Now I'm not as paranoid or self-conscious about my background. Put yourself in a Muslim's shoes: you either become more defined and protective of your religion or you just totally disconnect from it."

Larry Rubinstein, 51, Bellmore, a member of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council and a railroad commuter for nearly 25 years:

"Every time you move into a tunnel, do you think this could be a bad ride? Absolutely. I am seeing an increase [of security] in Penn Station itself. I actually saw for the first time a dog go through a train and I had never seen that.

"If you are in a train or tunnel, how are you going to get out? I don't know. We've talked on the train about it since it happened, but the bottom line is that there is nothing you can do. You have to hope that these people who are assigned to do this job are protecting you."

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