Small town beefs up terror patrol
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(CNN) -- The Tappahannock Police Department doubled its typical Christmas Day task force Thursday to handle the remote possibility that the small Virginia town may be the target of a terrorist attack, Mayor Ray Gladding said.
Instead of one officer patrolling the streets, the town will have two of its 10 officers working the holiday shift to keep Tappahannock's 2,000 residents safe.
The stepped-up patrol follows the raising of the national terror alert to orange (high).
The eastern Virginia town ended up on the FBI's worry list, which includes Los Angeles, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; New York; and Washington. Another rural Virginia area made the list of areas of concern too -- Rappahannock County, with 7,000 residents about 50 miles west of Washington.
"The FBI just told us they intercepted some chatter. They just heard the name," Gladding said. "Somewhere, in translation, the name Tappahannock, Rappahannock [was heard] -- they weren't really sure."
"They couldn't tell what context the words was used in."
As a result, state highway patrols have been beefed up through the town, and residents have been told to keep their eyes open for anything unusual. So far, little has attracted attention.
"We got one call yesterday about someone near a bridge," the mayor said. "It was a news crew from Washington taking pictures."
Things weren't much different Christmas afternoon, he said.
"Right now, I'm standing here looking over the town and it's pretty quiet. The news has kind of died down; everybody's kind of resigned themselves to the fact that we have to wait and see what happens."
Gladding said there was no obvious target for terrorists in the town, which is 30 minutes from the Chesapeake Bay and contains a number of small businesses, banks, light manufacturing plants, small retail stores, restaurants and an Episcopal girls' school. The town, surrounded by farmland and timber, is located 45 miles east of Richmond, Virginia, and 90 miles south of Washington.
Although Gladding won his $200-per-month job as mayor by running as an independent, the town voted for George W. Bush in the last election, he said.
About three dozen of the town's residents are Arab, he said.
One of them is Sameh Elattar, the Egyptian owner of Sunny Side Grocery Store, who said the FBI interviewed him and his employees Wednesday.
"We understand exactly what they are doing," he said. "They were very, very nice to us and we don't have any problem with them, and everything is going lovely."
He added, "We are part of this country and part of this town. We don't have any problem."
At Riverside Tappahannock Hospital, administrators spoke with law enforcement officials and were not told to take any special precautions, said spokeswoman Liz Martin. "They've told us, basically, to be on alert and be prepared as we normally would be. They haven't really given us any more reason to be concerned than that."
The 92-bed acute-care facility is prepared to deal with disasters and bioterrorist attacks, she said. "We're being aware of our surroundings and just trying to be alert to seeing what's going on and hoping that nothing will happen."
At the downtown Super 8 Hotel, Keesha Taylor -- in charge of the front desk and housekeeping -- said the 45-room hotel had just four guests, but that was not unusual and she was not aware of any cancellations.
"I don't think it's all that dangerous," she said, noting that she had seen more state troopers drive by the hotel than usual.
She was keeping an eye open for people who might be terrorists even though she's not sure what one might look like.
"A terrorist wouldn't look like somebody from around here," she said.
Karen Clark, a dispatcher with the Essex County Sheriff's Department, said state police and FBI agents have been in town, "But nothing's happened yet -- nothing that I know of."
Edward L. Hammond, who retired as mayor two years ago, said he didn't know what a terrorist would want to attack in the 300-year-old town. Aside from two water towers, the tallest structure in town is just five stories high, he said.
Still, he said, "You don't know. You got to believe something could happen."
And, he added, he was increasing his vigilance when looking at strangers -- for example, checking out people more closely than usual at the local McDonald's, where he usually eats breakfast.
"You'd be surprised," he said. "You set there and just watch the people. You never know."