- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

Travelers across the country can expect to see a greater law enforcement presence this holiday weekend in response to a threat of an al Qaeda terrorist plot targeting mass-transit systems near New York City.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Wednesday downplayed the seriousness of the plot, describing it as “plausible but uncorroborated information.” The threat was not connected to the carnage in India, which took place after the possible plot was reported.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, who was briefed on the matter, said authorities learned Tuesday of a conversation that took place in late September between two al Qaeda operatives, in which they discussed using suicide bombers to attack subway and commuter-rail lines near New York City.

“There is no evidence that they acted on it,” he said.

D.C. police said they have not increased patrols or threat level owing to the possible plot against New York, while Metro did increase its security presence as a precaution.

“We are going to increase the visibility and vigilance in the Metro system even though we have no knowledge of a threat to Metro,” Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said.

DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said: “Neither FBI nor DHS has any specific information to confirm that this plot has developed beyond aspirational planning.”

The nation’s terrorist-threat level was not increased in response to the plot.

But Mr. King said DHS is sending additional personnel to the Northeast and New York City and that transit police are beefing up patrols. The FBI will focus on gathering information, he said.

According to a statement from DHS and the FBI, travelers can expect to see more uniformed and plainclothes officers, federal air marshals, canine teams and security inspectors.

“FBI and DHS continue to corroborate this information, working closely with state and local partners, to follow every possible thread,” according to the statement. “As a routine matter, we remind the public to be both thoughtful and vigilant of their surroundings, and to report anything suspicious to authorities.”

Mr. King said travelers shouldn’t “panic, but keep their eyes and ears open, and do what police ask them.”

Information about the threat was only meant to be released to law enforcement and not the public, though such information has frequently been leaked to the press.

Ms. Kudwa said the FBI and DHS released the information to local and state law enforcement agencies Wednesday out of “an abundance of caution” heading into the beginning of the holiday travel season.

Thanksgiving weekend is typically the biggest travel period of the year.

Coincidentally, more travelers are expected to ride trains and buses this year, while fewer are expected to fly or drive, according to AAA.

“If these economic times wouldn’t deter them, then it’s hard to imagine a vague terrorist threat would deter them,” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson said.

According to AAA, about 41 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more, down only about 600,000 from last year, a slight surprise, given the country’s struggling economy.

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