By Daniel Wallis
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Fans attending Sunday's Super Bowl in Arizona will face tight restrictions on what they can take into the stadium as a huge security operation swings into action to protect the biggest annual U.S. sports event.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met top local law enforcement officials in Phoenix on Wednesday and will visit the University of Phoenix stadium in nearby Glendale, where the Seattle Seahawks will play the New England Patriots for the National Football League championship.
Ticket-holders are being told to get there early for a rigorous security screening procedure that will involve metal detectors and a pat-down search.
Deadly shootings in Paris and the recent arrest of suspects in Belgium, Greece and Germany have heightened fears of more attacks around the world, and social media accounts linked to Middle East militant groups have carried a number of threats to attack high-profile U.S. events.
Federal security officials have said U.S. agencies are unaware of any specific or credible terrorist threat against the Super Bowl. Johnson echoed that on Wednesday.
At a news conference, NFL Chief Security Officer Jeffrey Miller said: "Most items cannot be carried into the stadium."
Only clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bags measuring 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches, or 1-gallon freezer bags, will be permitted, as well as small clutch bags "approximately the size of a hand," he said.
Coolers, backpacks, computer and camera bags, and all other kinds of luggage are prohibited, as are bottles and beverages including alcohol, camcorders, food, fireworks, Frisbees and umbrellas, according to an NFL list.
Exceptions will made for medically necessary items, after an inspection at a specially designated stadium gate.
"While the level of security is high, there should only be a moderate inconvenience for our fans: a very small price to pay," Miller said.
Debora Black, chief of the Glendale Police Department, said that while most people viewed the Super Bowl as an exciting finale to the football season, others saw the event as a target.
"We are confident that we are prepared to identify and protect against any threat," Black said. "While the world is focused on the (Phoenix-area) Valley for this week, we have been focused on this week for over a year."
(Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Peter Cooney)