- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

4:20 p.m.

NEW YORK - Authorities have disrupted a plot by foreign terrorists to attack the train tunnels beneath the Hudson River used by thousands of New York City commuters every day, the FBI announced today.

Law enforcement officials said the plot involved at least eight people living overseas, including an al Qaeda 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,” Mr. Mershon said.

Initial reports said the terrorists wanted to attack the Holland Tunnel, but Mr. Mershon said the group specifically mentioned only the PATH train tunnels between New York and New Jersey. He confirmed the Lebanon operative’s identity as Assem Hammoud.

A Lebanese security official said Hammoud, a Beirut 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 Qaeda 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 possibly were being targeted after investigators pieced together code words from their conversations.

The case has been under investigation for almost a year, Mr. 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.,” said Richard Kolko, a Washington-based FBI special agent.

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,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. “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, New York Democrat.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said investigators had found no evidence that the Holland Tunnel was part of the plot. The New York Daily News had reported today that the plotters wanted to blow up the tunnel, the southernmost link between Manhattan and New Jersey, in hopes of flooding New York’s financial district.

The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI said the investigation was ongoing.

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