FBI thwarts plot to destroy PATH train and Holland tunnels to flood Manhattan - 8 arrested in Lebanon acting for Bin Laden
July 7, 2006
FBI links 8 abroad to terror plot
By Josh Meyer and Ellen Barry, Tribune Newspapers: Los Angeles Times; Josh Meyer reported from Washington and Ellen Barry from New York; Times special correspondent Rania Abouzeid contributed from Bei
July 8, 2006
NEW YORK -- U.S. authorities, aided by other nations, have thwarted a plot by foreign terrorists to blow up commuter train tunnels beneath the Hudson River that connect lower Manhattan and New Jersey, FBI officials announced Friday.
The plan, involving eight conspirators based in other countries, was "the real deal," FBI Assistant Director Mark Mershon said at a news conference.
Mershon, head of the bureau's New York field office, added that although no explosives had been purchased by the suspects, "the plotting of the attack had matured to the point where it appeared the individuals were about to move forward, attempt to surveil targets, establish a regimen of attack and acquire resources" to carry it out.
Three of the co-conspirators are in custody overseas, including the suspected mastermind, 31-year-old Assem Hammoud of Beirut, Mershon said. He added that authorities have tentatively identified the other five and that extensive manhunts for them are proceeding.
There are two railway tunnels through which commuter trains travel to and from New Jersey and lower Manhattan. The system is a subsidiary of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey known as PATH, for Port Authority Trans-Hudson. It typically transports 215,115 passengers each workday.
One PATH tunnel curves through the footprint of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, destroyed in the Sept. 11 terrorists assault.
Friday marked the first anniversary of a coordinated series of terrorist bombings on three subway trains and a bus in London. Authorities said Friday there was no apparent connection between the London bombings and the current case, nor have direct links been established between the suspects in the tunnel plot and Al Qaeda.
But they noted similarities to the London attack, which killed 56 people and injured about 700 others, including the targeting of mass transit systems by Islamic militants who either sympathize with or actively support bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization.
In the current case, Mershon and other authorities said the FBI locked onto the suspects after they discussed details of the plot in an Internet chat room frequented by Islamic militants.
They said the plot was disrupted thanks to what they described as a "textbook" cooperative effort among counterterrorism officials in the United States, Lebanon and five other foreign governments.
Details of plot
Hammoud, also known as Amir al-Andalousy, was arrested in Beirut by members of Lebanon's Internal Security Forces on April 27, the Lebanon Interior Ministry said in a statement Friday.
It said Hammoud, a Lebanese national, was allegedly plotting "a big terrorist operation against rail tunnels in New York City under the Hudson River."
"After questioning he confessed that he was planning to travel to Pakistan for four months' training and that the date for the attack was decided to be late in 2006," the Lebanese statement said.
It also said that Hammoud confessed that he had passed on maps of the target to an unknown number of "his accomplices," and confessed to belonging to a "radical organization."
U.S. authorities said the suspects were communicating openly though chat rooms and e-mail messages, in the belief that no one could track or identify them.
By late Friday, there were some discrepancies about whether any of the alleged plotters had ever been to the United States.
At the news conference, Mershon said the FBI believed none who were principal players had visited the United States.
But the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation issued a report Friday saying Hammoud had traveled to New York and New Jersey on several occasions using a Canadian passport to survey possible targets.
The respected Beirut-based television station also said Hammoud was recruited into Al Qaeda in 1994 while he was in Canada.
Later, a FBI official confirmed that Hammoud had visited the U.S. at least once but added, "We have no reason to believe it had anything to do with this plot."
The FBI official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, would not say whether Hammoud had entered the country on a Canadian passport or whether the ongoing investigation extends into Canada.
Traffic streams past the New York entrance of the Holland Tunnel on Friday in New York City.
FBI thwarts plot to attack NYC transport system
Updated Fri. Jul. 7 2006 5:33 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
American authorities have thwarted an alleged plot by foreign terrorists to bomb the train tunnels beneath the Hudson River, which is used by thousands of New York City commuters every day, law enforcement officials said Friday.
"We have disrupted a terrorist network that was in the planning stages of an attack," the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.
U.S. authorities worked with intelligence agencies in six foreign countries to crack the planned attack on the PATH rail system that links Manhattan and New Jersey under the Hudson River, said Mark Mershon, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI New York Field Office.
"This is a plot that would have involved martyrdom, explosives and certain of the tubes that connect New Jersey with Lower Manhattan. We're not discussing the modality beyond that," Mershon told a news conference.
When asked by reporters whether there was a Canadian connection, Mershon would only say: "We're not prepared to discuss the levels of co-operation."
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day also wouldn't say whether any Canadians were implicated in the alleged plot, saying the investigation is ongoing.
"One thing that we know is that people who plan these despicable deeds, they known no boundaries," Day said Friday at a Toronto news conference.
"These are terrorists without borders, and they also do not respond to the borders of human dignity or the sanctity of human life and they can come from any part of the globe. So as that investigation continues to unfold, we'll see where they've all come from."
FBI agents monitoring Internet chat rooms routinely used by extremist groups discovered the plot aimed at striking a blow to the city's economy by destroying its transportation network, officials said.
Three suspects are in custody abroad, one of them in Lebanon, he said.
"We believe we have what I'll call eight principal players. And that we have them largely identified." He added: "Some are in custody, one of those has been charged formally in Lebanon."
"It's our understanding at this point that none of the individuals who are, as we say, principal players in this plot have been in the United States, and they are certainly not here now," he said.
Lebanese authorities, working with U.S. law enforcement agencies, arrested an al Qaeda operative who admitted to plotting a terror attack in New York City, a senior Lebanese security official said Friday.
The arrest was reportedly made a month ago.
The suspect was at first identified as Amir Andalousli, but officials said the name of the 31-year-old Beirut native was actually Assem Hammoud.
"After questioning he confessed ... that he was planning to travel to Pakistan for four months training and that the date for the attack was decided to be late in 2006," Lebanon's Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Hammoud told investigators he was acting "on a religious order from bin Laden and said 'I am proud to carry out his orders'," a Lebanese security official told The Associated Press.
The plot was first reported by the New York Daily News in its Friday editions, the first anniversary of the attacks on the London transportation system that killed 52 people.
The newspaper quoted unidentified counterterrorism sources as saying authorities had unearthed a plot to detonate enough explosives inside the 79-year-old Holland Tunnel to destroy it and send devastating floodwaters through lower Manhattan.
The 79-year-old tunnel runs under the Hudson River between New Jersey and Manhattan and carried almost 34 million vehicles in 2005.
The idea was reportedly inspired by the flooding in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.
The newspaper quoted experts as saying the plan to flood the financial district was badly flawed because the tunnel was protected by concrete and cast-iron steel.
The experts also said the plan was unfeasible that even if the tunnel were to crack, the financial district was above the level of the Hudson River.
A government counterterrorism official with knowledge of the probe told AP on condition of anonymity that while the alleged plot was targeting New York's transportation system, there was no evidence that the Holland Tunnel was part of the plot.
It's unclear how far along the planning for the alleged scheme was.
"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.
Rep. Peter King said that federal law enforcement and New York police have been monitoring a plot to attack New York's mass transit system for at least eight months.
But he did not publicly disclose what he learned to protect the integrity of the investigation, he said.
"This is ongoing, that's why I've said nothing about it until now," King said. "It would have been better if this had not been disclosed."
In its statement, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security indicated that the investigation was ongoing.
"We know al Qaeda 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 Qaeda is planning an attack on U.S. soil.