YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: State fire safety officials this afternoon confirmed an earlier report on CLIFFVIEW PILOT that two “suspicious men” visiting fire stations in New Jersey posed no threat, saying they have “no credible evidence that these individuals intended to do any harm.”
CLIFFVIEW PILOT broke the story about the alert ( below ) this morning, which said that two men “appearing to be of Middle Eastern descent” visited the Mantua Township firehouse in Gloucester County and were escorted out after they tried to take photos and conduct interviews.
The alert, issued by the state Division of Fire Safety, said that local police had issued a “pickup and hold for questioning” request and advised firefighters and emergency responders statewide “to have a heightened awareness of this and other similar incidents, especially considering the attacks at the Boston Marathon.”
“It is believed that these individuals may have visited several area fire stations,” the alert added.
Law enforcement sources contacted CLIFFVIEW PILOT to report that the concerns already were proved unfounded before the DFS, a branch of the Department of Community Affairs, issued its alert.
This was then confirmed by New Jersey State Police.
“We were advised that this incident was fully vetted by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force last week and it was determined that there was no cause for concern,” NJSP Lt. Stephen Jones told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .
Jones’s comment was relayed to a spokeswoman for the DFS just after 1:30 this afternoon.
“I had not heard that,” she responded, adding that she was contacting DFS officials to determine what had happened.
The Division issued this statement, via email, at 3:45:
“Based on an incident that occurred late last week in Gloucester County, a notice was distributed to all fire departments and law enforcement agencies regarding two men attempting to gain access to fire stations to obtain information on apparatus, manpower, and response protocols. Law enforcement has determined that these individuals do not pose a specific threat.
“However, in light of Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, we want to reassure the public that we have no credible evidence that these individuals intended to do any harm.
“We encourage all citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance and report suspicious activity or suspicious behavior to law enforcement.”
The NJSP issued its own statement, noting that the tip “was turned over to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and investigated by NJ State Troopers and an investigator with the NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness who are all embedded in the JTTF.
“The subjects involved were located and interviewed last Friday, and the incident was found to be innocent in nature. That tip has been closed out and no further information will be available to protect the identities of those involved.
“Tips about suspicious activities are very important, and this incident is a perfect example of how the system works. Please continue to report suspicious activity to New Jersey’s tip line at 1-866-4-SAFE NJ (866-472-3365) and keep this number in your mobile phones.”
The men, ages 19 and 20 — one of whom attends Gloucester Community College — told local police they were working on a “college project” using rented video equipment, Mantua Police Chief Rodney Sawyer said in a statement.
“Their questioning began with why they wanted to become firefighters, then turned to questions about certain response protocol and (a desire to) photograph/video equipment and the fire hall,” Sawyer said of the April 11 visit to his borough’s firehouse. He said he knew of only one other visit that they made.
After questioning and releasing both men, police passed on what they learned to to the state Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, the chief said.
They were questioned the next day by the JTTF, Jones said.