Miami-Dade County

South Florida shoppers: Mall terror threats won’t change our routine

The Dolphin Mall in Sweewater, where police are urging shoppers to be aware of their surroundings.
The Dolphin Mall in Sweewater, where police are urging shoppers to be aware of their surroundings. El Nuevo Herald File

Despite vague but disturbing warnings of terrorists targeting a U.S. mega-mall, shoppers aren’t staying away and security says it’s business as usual.

The chief of U.S. Homeland Security warned shoppers to be aware of the threats. And police in South Florida say anyone entering a mall should just keep their eyes open — as usual.

“If you see something, say something,” said Maj. Jorge Fernandez of the Sweetwater Police Department, which patrols the Dolphin Mall at 11401 NW 12th Street.

A threatening video was released over the weekend by al-Shabab, a southern Somalia-based group that carried out the 2013 attacks on a Kenyan mall that killed more than 60 people. It said militants should attack American, Canadian and British shopping centers and referenced the Mall of America near Minneapolis.

In response, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said shoppers should be “particularly careful.”

But on Monday, the Department of Homeland Security denied that there was any credible threat against the Mall of America or other shopping centers, according to Reuters.

Fernandez said all officers posted at Dolphin Mall are briefed on a daily basis on updates from Homeland Security. He said the mall will continue its usual security practices and urged anyone who spots something or someone suspicious to contact a cop.

The International Council of Shopping Centers, of which Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise is a member, released a statement saying the safety of consumers and employees is the industry’s top priority.

“When it comes to protecting and securing a shopping center, many factors are taken into consideration and security plans and procedures are customized to each center’s unique characteristics,” the statement said. “The shopping center industry will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to ensure that shopping centers are safe and comfortable environments in which to shop.”

Aventura police has a specially assigned squad to patrol the large mall at Northeast 195th Street and Biscayne Boulevard. Aventura Police Chief Steven Steinberg declined to comment on security measures in place at the mall.

Aventura Mall released a statement Monday afternoon in response to the threats.

“We are aware of the recent news developments,” the statement said. “Aventura Mall always works closely with its local and regional police departments. We continue to be dedicated and committed to providing a safe environment.”

Mall shoppers appear nonplussed at the latest security warnings.

“We will continue to shop at malls and shopping centers,” Christopher Zoller, a broker associate in Coral Gables, said in an email. “We will not let threats from international criminals alter our lifestyle. We will remain vigilant and observant, but we will continue to shop and dine in malls and centers.”

Alex Hernandez, a Florida International University senior with a dual BA in international affairs, said al-Shabab is delivering “empty threats to scare Westerners.”

“Keeping in mind that terrorism has many forms, one of them being the threat of the use of force to coerce a certain behavior or demand from the group of people being targeted, I believe the threats of al-Shabab are themselves the terror attack, and it is only as powerful as we wish to perceive it,” Hernandez said in an email.

Hernandez said al-Shabab leaves “an ever-shrinking footprint in contrast to other Jihadi groups,” but added that the threat should still be taken seriously.

“We have to keep in mind, in a post-9/11 America,” Hernandez said, “we cannot afford to take any threat lightly.”

This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with the Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a source at MiamiHerald.com/insight.

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