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FBI Disrupts New York Transportation Plot
07.07.2006, 02:40 PM
Law enforcement officials said the plot involved at least eight people living overseas, including an alleged al-Qaida operative in Lebanon who has been arrested and charged.
"This is a plot that involved martyrdom and explosives and certain of the tubes that connect Jersey and lower Manhattan," FBI Assistant Director Mark J. Mershon said. He called the plot the "real deal."
"We believe we intercepted this group early in their plotting and, in fact, the plan has largely been disrupted," Mershon said.
Initial reports said the terrorists wanted to attack the Holland Tunnel. But Mershon said the group specifically mentioned only the PATH train tunnels between New York and New Jersey. He confirmed the alleged Lebanon operative's identity as Assem Hammoud.
A Lebanese security official said Hammoud, a Beruit native, confessed to plotting to attack New York City tunnels in October or November of this year and said he was acting on Osama bin Laden's orders. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Hammoud told investigators he was acting "on a religious order from bin Laden and said 'I am proud to carry out his orders'," the official said.
New York's transportation system has emerged as a potential terrorist target in several recent cases. A June book by journalist Ron Suskind highlighted a reported plot by al-Qaida terrorists to kill thousands of New Yorkers by spreading cyanide gas in the subway. In May, a man was convicted of plotting to blow up a subway station.
In the latest case, a federal official said FBI agents monitoring Internet chat rooms used by extremists learned of the plot in recent months and determined that tunnels were possibly being targeted after investigators pieced together code words from their conversations.
The case has been under investigation for almost a year, Mershon said, and authorities believe there were several conspirators.
"At this time we have no indication of any imminent threat to the New York transportation system, or anywhere else in the U.S.," Richard Kolko, Washington-based FBI special agent, said in a statement to Associated Press Radio.
One U.S. official called the plot "largely aspirational" and described the Internet conversations as mostly extremists discussing and conceptualizing the plot. The official said no money had been transferred, nor had other similar operational steps been taken.
"It was never a concern that this would actually be executed," Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff said Friday. "We were, as I say, all over this."
Details of the plot emerged on the one-year anniversary of the attacks on the London transportation system that killed 52 people.
"This is one instance where intelligence was on top of its game and discovered the plot when it was just in the talking phase," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said Friday that investigators had found no evidence that the Holland Tunnel was part of the plot. The New York Daily News had reported Friday that the plotters wanted to blow up the tunnel, the southernmost link between Manhattan and New Jersey, in the hopes of flooding New York's financial district.
In its statement, Homeland Security and the FBI said, the investigation was ongoing.
"We know al-Qaida continues to have an interest in attacking the United States," it added. "At this point in time, there is no specific or credible information that al-Qaida is planning an attack on U.S. soil."
Associated Press Writers Lara Jakes Jordan, Katherine Shrader and Mark Sherman in Washington, D.C.; Sam F. Ghattas in Beirut, Lebanon; and Glenn Johnson in Boston contributed to this report.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
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