Seattle's Biggest Party Busted

Terrorism fears lead to the cancellation of the annual party under Seattle's landmark Space Needle

(Everything2000) Seattle has had its share of problems in the last few months and the mayor decides enough is enough, and cancels Seattle's New Year's Eve celebration under the Space Needle. Mayor Paul Schell said he is concerned the area's biggest party could be a terrorist target.

"It is safer to be prudent," Schell said in a written statement. "This is already an unprecedented, unpredictable New Year's, and we did not want to take chances with public safety, no matter how remote the threat might seem."

Every year ,until now, tens of thousands of revelers gather under the Space Needle to party and ring in the New Year. At midnight the Space Needle is the launching pad for fireworks with an elaborate display was planned for the year 2000. The fireworks will go on, but the party will not. The area under the Space Needle will be closed at 6 p.m. and people will have to go home or elsewhere to celebrate.

This announcement comes after two incidents in Seattle that have city leaders on edge. On December 14th an Algerian national was caught trying to smuggle a carload of explosives into the United States. Ahmed Ressam was arrested in Washington State and that set of f a nationwide alert for possible terrorists. The other incident took place in November. The World Trade Organization met in Seattle and the city was the focus of protests that led to severe clashes with police.

Schell made the decision to cancel the party during a 90-minute meeting with police and fire officials, top city managers and several City Council members. Officials looked at several other options short of canceling the event, but in the end decided closing the area after dark was the best action. The mayor said federal officials have not advised him of any specific threat to the city.

"It shows the terrorists have achieved at least one of their aims-to intimidate authorities, " Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of counterterrorism as the Central Intelligence Agency told the Seattle Times. " Without having specific information-without having a specific threat about New Year's Eve- it's an excess of caution to not allow people to gather."

An estimated 50,000 people were expected to gather under the Space Needle, but that number has been falling since the arrest of Ressam at the Washington border. About 40,000 was the latest crowd estimate since the city made plans to add a substantial number of police officers to the party, put up barricades and check bags for security purposes.

Last week, city officials postponed plans to burn large paper-and-wood sculptures out of fear that fires might encourage bad behavior. So the Seattle party is getting smaller and smaller with only a daytime version now proceeding on schedule. Afternoon concerts and a circus performance will go ahead as planned. A private party that rented the Space Needle for the evening will also be allowed to continue on with their festivities. The rest of the would-be revelers will have to go home and watch the fireworks on television.

Source: Seattle Times

DATE: 12/28/99

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