The FBI, joined by city leaders, launched a public awareness campaign Thursday urging residents and business owners to report suspicious behavior ahead of Mardi Gras, a celebration that has prompted heightened awareness among law enforcement this year in the wake of recent terrorist attacks.
Jeffrey Sallet, the special agent in charge of the bureau’s New Orleans division, told reporters that investigators know of “absolutely no credible threats” targeting the Carnival season.
But he said the FBI has become more vigilant in light of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.
“Safety and security is the responsibility of everyone, and partnership with the community is absolutely critical to making sure that we’re keeping people safe,” Sallet said. “There is a whole laundry list of things that, through the collaborative efforts of the community and law enforcement and intelligence, that we are preventing on a daily basis.”
Law enforcement officials have done “a tremendous amount of work” to prepare for an expected attendance of more than 1 million people at Mardi Gras, Sallet said.
But the FBI, Louisiana State Police and New Orleans Police Department appealed to the public to report furtive activity that seems out of place in their communities.
Beyond unattended packages, Sallet said, the FBI would like to know about people seen photographing critical infrastructure like bridges, outsiders “milling around” neighborhoods, and unusual or incendiary statements overheard concerning, for instance, “a hatred of Mardi Gras that seems excessive.”
Cars parked in places they shouldn’t be might also be a red flag, he said.
“We have really, really great citizens in the city that know their city, and if there’s just something that doesn’t make sense to them, it probably doesn’t,” Sallet said.
Police Superintendent Michael Harrison described the NOPD’s relationship with the FBI as “stronger now than it has ever been,” noting that Sallet has offered the department every resource available to him. Mayor Mitch Landrieu said “the threat of terrorism is real” around the country but added the authorities are prepared for it.
“We are much more aware today than we were last year — even though we were aware last year — that we are a potential target,” Landrieu said. “This city knows really, really well how to protect itself when there are very large crowds, but you can’t ever do enough.”
The FBI asked anyone observing suspicious behavior to call (800) 225-5324 or submit tips through smartphones via the “See Send” application.
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