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Firebombing in N.Y. Tests the Metal Of a Tough Breed

NEW YORKERS, a resilient breed, are bouncing back from their latest incident - a firebomb that went off in the subway on Wednesday. And the police have made an arrest, charging a New Jersey man with the fire that injured about 45 people.

Within hours of the fire, the city had the nation's largest subway system back on track. Yesterday morning the Fulton Street subway stop, where the firebomb took place, had been scrubbed clean. There wasn't even a hint of smoke.

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Outside the subway, where ambulances and fire trucks had lined the streets, vendors were busy selling Christmas cards, scarves, and gift packs.

``Gotta make a living,'' said a vendor who only wanted to be identified as ``Al.''

The local beat cop, Tom Maiorona, was back to his usual routine, walking along lower Broadway. ``You take it in stride,'' said officer Maiorona, who was the first policeman on the scene once the fire was reported. ``You worry about the people, you got to help them,'' he added.

Some of the straphangers themselves admitted to a few qualms. ``I'm skeptical,'' said a woman rushing to work. A male computer programmer said he was curious and got off the subway one stop early to rubberneck. And Eric Daniels, a telemarketer, said an extra prayer before he headed to his Wall Street job.

One reason New Yorkers could feel reassured is fast police work.

Within hours of the incident, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his police commissioner, William Bratton, were reassuring the public that the city was under control. The FBI was immediately called into the case as was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

As the technical experts scoured the subway car, the police began focussing on an individual, Edward Leary, an out-of-work man who surfaced at a Brooklyn subway stop with severe burns. He may also be a suspect in a subway firebomb incident that took place last week and severely burned a teenager. The police report both firebombs were built the same way. Mr. Leary was arrested yesterday.

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While the police work continued through the night, security experts said there was little that could be done to completely safeguard something as large as the New York Transit system, which carries 3.5 million people per day.

``There is no technological fix,'' stated Adm. Paul Busick, director of the city's Transportation Department's Office of Intelligence and Security.

Last spring, the city had considered a pilot program to install metal detectors at high crime subway stops.

However, transit officials say the plan was dropped for legal and technical reasons. Instead, the city is focusing on a high-profile police presence.

The latest incident took place only a few weeks before the start of a major trial of people accused of plotting to blow up the United Nations, the Lincoln Tunnel, and other city buildings. That trial is scheduled to start on Jan. 9.

The firebomb also went off in the shadow of the World Trade Center, where a blast last February killed six people and injured more than a thousand. This year four men were convicted of that explosion.

However, there is no evidence a terrorist group is involved in this latest incident.

``Our assumption is that this is just a random act as opposed to a terrorist act,'' stated Mr. Busick.

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