Monday, September 20, 2010
A'jad is on the edgy of town
The Hilton Manhattan East has been turned into a sealed fortress to house Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- with ramped-up security forces standing guard amid specially installed bulletproof windows, airport-style metal detectors and powerful anti-terror weapons.
The reviled, Holocaust-denying leader was greeted by the extraordinary security ring at the Midtown hotel after arriving Saturday to attend this week's UN General Assembly opening.
"I've seen guys with machine guns outside [the hotel], but not machine guns with grenade launchers on the ends of them," said one hotel worker who has helped handle the security crush in the past.
A stunned female hotel guest added, "It's crazy in there!"
Tension over the arrival of Ahmadinejad and other world leaders in the city was so high yesterday that Secret Service agents pulled their guns on a hapless photographer who cut across police lines on the Upper East Side to chase down Israeli President Shimon Peres' motorcade.
Shutterbug Jason Nicholas was arrested but released without being charged.
Ahmadinejad's digs on East 42nd Street -- less than a block from the Israeli Consulate on Second Avenue -- will be guarded by an average of 30 NYPD cops working 12-hour shifts and a Secret Service detail monitoring the premises at all times.
Hotel guests -- who were not warned they would be sharing quarters with the Iranian leader -- have to pass through a magnetometer, just like the metal detectors at the airports, to enter and exit.
Ahmadinejad was checked into a suite on a low-level floor of the hotel so that FDNY firefighters could easily rescue him by ladder in case of fire, law-enforcement sources said.
Two firefighters are even stationed in the lobby around-the-clock, sources said, and heavily armed, beige-clad US law-enforcement officials were monitoring the outside of the hotel last night.
Ahmadinejad has access to a private elevator on his floor, a source said, and everything he touches is supplied by his aides.
His rooms' windowpanes were swapped for bullet-proof glass.
The hate-spewing leader, on his sixth visit to the UN General Assembly, is granted the city's second-highest level of security, sources said. Only President Obama gets more.
Ahmadinejad, who is scheduled to attend Friday's UN meeting on disarmament, took to the airwaves yesterday, demanding the United States release eight "illegally arrested" Iranians after his country freed one of three American hikers held captive for more than a year.
"The US government should make a humanitarian gesture to release the Iranians who were illegally arrested and detained here in the United States," he said on ABC's "This Week."
The eight Iranians are accused of different crimes, including violating sanctions against Iran.
The call for the prisoner swap followed Iran's release last week of US hiker Sarah Shourd after 13 months in custody. Fellow hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal remain in a Tehran prison on espionage charges.
The annual visit by the Iranian strongman -- who has called for the destruction of Israel and bizarrely denied the existence of homosexuals in his country -- inspired a demonstration.
About 100 protesters gathered near Columbus Circle to protest his upcoming UN appearance.
Additional reporting by Kirsten Fleming and S.A. Miller