- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

Lebanese authorities found maps and bombing plans on the personal computer of an al Qaeda loyalist accused of plotting to attack New York train tunnels, and an American official disclosed that the man had visited the U.S. at least once.

Acting Lebanese Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat described the information found on Assem Hammoud’s computer as “very important.”

“It contained maps and bombing plans that were being prepared,” Mr. Fatfat said in a local television interview.

In the U.S., a federal law-enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said Hammoud, 31, had visited the United States at least once — a trip to California six years ago.

The official said Hammoud had a legitimate visa for a brief stay and was thought to have been visiting either family or friends. The visit occurred long before authorities say the tunnel plot began to unfold.

Authorities are still trying to trace Hammoud’s steps during that trip but say they have no record of his going to New York. They have not ruled out that Hammoud could have entered the country using different names.

Lebanese security officials said they obtained “important information” from the computer and CDs seized from Hammoud’s office at the Lebanese International University, where he taught economics.

“This information helped the investigators make Hammoud confess to his role in plotting a terror act in America,” one Lebanese official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Hammoud, who has used the alias Amir Andalousli, has been in Lebanese custody since April. Two others also are in custody in the case, which U.S. investigators said was disrupted after coordinated efforts with officials in six other countries. Five suspects are at large.

The FBI said the suspects planned to attack trains under the Hudson River using suicide bombers and backpack bombs. The plan, which authorities said the suspects hoped to carry out in October or November, was to flood Lower Manhattan by attacking the tunnels — used by tens of thousands of commuters each day.

But the plot was only in the planning stages, and the suspects had not purchased any explosives or traveled to the U.S. as part of the scheme, authorities said.

“We received information from the FBI in April about an attempt to plot a terror act in New York City through Internet communications in Lebanon,” Mr. Fatfat said Saturday. “Based on this information, security forces acted and arrested Mr. Assem Hammoud.”

Officials said Hammoud confessed to the plot and to swearing allegiance to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported that a Syrian suspect had been lured to Libya and arrested there, along with a third suspect whose nationality was not known.

Hammoud’s family denied that he had any al Qaeda links.

The suspects at large are a Saudi, a Yemeni, a Jordanian, a Palestinian and an Iranian Kurd, As-Safir said.

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