Captured Islamic State fighters told intelligence officials in Iraq of an alleged plot to attack subways in the United States and Paris, Iraq's prime minister said Thursday, spurring concern that New York City's subway system could be a target.
The remarks were greeted with skepticism from top counterterrorism officials and political leaders.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, said officials in Baghdad told him the plot involved foreign fighters, including U.S. and French nationals in Iraq.
"Today, while I'm here I'm receiving accurate reports from Baghdad that there were arrests of a few elements and there were networks from inside Iraq to have attacks . . . on metros of Paris and U.S.," he said. "They are not Iraqis. Some of them are French, some of them are Americans. But they are in Iraq."
Asked if the attacks were imminent, he said, "I'm not sure." Asked if the attacks had been thwarted, he added: "No, it has not been disrupted yet . . . this is a network."
Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies Thursday said they were aware of al-Abadi's comments, but could not verify any plot against New York's subway -- the largest in the nation -- or other U.S. transit systems.
"We have not confirmed such a plot and would have to review any information from our Iraqi partners before making further determinations," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council. "We take any threat seriously and always work to corroborate information we receive from our partners."
John Miller, the NYPD's top counterterror official, said the department is "in close contact with the FBI and other federal partners as we assess this particular threat stream."
A federal counterterrorism official told Newsday there was no imminent, credible threat to the New York subway system, but that domestic intelligence gathered about a month ago did involve a possible threat to area trains. That threat was never corroborated, the official said, "but that may in fact be what he [the prime minister] was referring to."
In his remarks, al-Abadi declined to give the location in the United States where such an attack might occur. French officials said Thursday they knew of no plot.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) believes there is little credibility to the attack threat. "From my knowledge and all, I spoke to people in the federal government today, there is nothing to this claim by the prime minister," he said.
Phillip Walzak, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said his office "is aware of the reports and the city takes any threat seriously. We are in close consultation with the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies."
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced plans this week to increase security at the region's mass transit sites. Following al-Abadi's remarks Thursday, Cuomo took a trip on the subway to show New Yorkers the system is safe.
"Since the tensions first escalated, we have been working very hard, literally seven days a week, to make sure New York is more prepared than it has ever been prepared before," Cuomo told reporters on a Queens-bound E train platform after riding the subway from the World Trade Center to Penn Station.
De Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton also rode the subway Thursday, hoping to allay fears. Outside the Union Square station, de Blasio told reporters, "There is no immediate credible threat to our subway system, I say that with confidence. People should go about their business."
Counterterrorism officials say tensions have been high since Islamic State fighters took control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria in recent weeks, killing residents and beheading several hostages, including two American journalists. The United States and five Arab ally nations are waging an aerial bombardment campaign against the group's positions in both countries. With AP