FBI Disrupts New York Transportation Plot
By PAT MILTON, Associated Press Writer
July 7, 2006
YORK - A terrorist plot to inflict
death and destruction by attacking train tunnels used by tens of thousands of commuters each day was thwarted before the men
could travel to the United States, authorities
Eight suspects — including
an al-Qaida loyalist arrested in Lebanon
and two others in custody elsewhere — had hoped to pull off the attack in October or November, federal officials said.
But federal investigators working with their counterparts in six other countries intervened.
"It was never a concern
that this would actually be executed," said Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff. "We were, as I say,
all over this."
Initial reports said that
the terrorists wanted to attack the Holland Tunnel, a major thoroughfare for cars entering Manhattan. But officials said the group had specifically mentioned only the PATH train tunnels
that commuters travel through on their way to New York and New Jersey.
"This is a plot that involved
martyrdom and explosives" and focused on the "tubes that connect Jersey and lower Manhattan,"
said FBI Assistant Director Mark J. Mershon.
A federal law enforcement
official said the suspects hoped to inflict damage on the U.S.
The men believed that by
bombing the train tunnels, they could unleash a severe flood on lower Manhattan,
including Wall Street, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. The official
said investigators believe that an attack on a PATH tunnel, unlike the Holland Tunnel, could have achieved that goal.
Investigators decided in
recent weeks that the "plotting for this attack had matured to a point where it appeared that the individuals were about to
move forward," Mershon said. "They were about to go to a phase where they would attempt to surveil targets, establish a regimen
of attack and acquire the resources necessary to effectuate the attacks."
"At that point it's entirely
appropriate to take it down."
Details of the plot —
first reported by the Daily News — emerged on the one-year anniversary of the attacks on the London transportation system that killed 52 people. Officials said the timing of Friday's
report in relation to the anniversary was coincidental.
New York's transportation
system has emerged as a potential terrorist threat several times over the years. 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 bustling subway station.
In 1993, the FBI rounded
up more than a dozen men who allegedly conspired to blow up five New York City landmarks including
the Lincoln and Holland tunnels.
The prosecution resulted in more than a dozen convictions.
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.
Another U.S. official also speaking on condition of anonymity because
the investigation is ongoing 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.
Officials cited the arrest
of the Lebanese suspect — described as the scheme's mastermind — as a significant break in the investigation.
A Lebanese official said the Beirut man confessed to plotting to attack New York City tunnels later this year, and that he was acting on Osama bin Laden's orders.
Police arrested the man
on April 27, acting on information from the FBI, said a senior security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because
the investigation is ongoing. The suspect uses the alias Amir Andalousli, but his real name is Assem Hammoud.
The 31-year-old suspect
told investigators he was acting "on a religious order from bin Laden and said 'I am proud to carry out his orders'," the
The suspect's family denied
any al-Qaida links and his mother, Nabila Qotob, said Hammoud taught economics at a local university.
"His morale is high because
he is confident he is innocent," she said of her son, who turned 31 on Thursday.
law enforcement official said one of the others accused in the plot is believed to be Canadian, but said there were no apparent
links to the 17 people arrested last month in a plot to bomb buildings around Toronto.
The Port Authority Trans-Hudson
Corporation, or PATH, serves as the primary transit link between Manhattan and neighboring
New Jersey urban communities and suburban railroads. PATH
presently carries 215,115 passengers each weekday.
PATH train riders took the
news of the plot in stride.
"It bothers us, it scares
us, but you gotta keep living, you know?" said Dudley Nosy, 21, a security guard from Brooklyn who regularly takes the train
to Jersey City to see his girlfriend. "You can't stay in the
house all day long, you gotta do what you gotta do."