Plot to Attack N.Y. Foiled

By Spencer S. Hsu and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 8, 2006

A terrorist plot to attack transit tunnels under New York's Hudson River was broken up in its early planning stages, U.S. authorities said yesterday, with three suspects arrested overseas, including a Lebanese man the FBI said was an al-Qaeda follower.

FBI assistant director for New York Mark J. Mershon said investigators had disrupted the plot before the suspects could come to the United States and begin to gather intelligence and explosives for the attack. He said there was no threat now to the PATH commuter lines, which carry tens of thousands of people between New York and New Jersey each day.

The FBI uncovered the alleged plot last summer and intercepted e-mails and chat-room postings on Web sites used to recruit Islamic terrorists. U.S. authorities turned in April to Lebanese officials for help in tracking one of the suspects, Assem Hammoud. The 31-year-old man, who the FBI said was the group's leader, was arrested in Beirut on April 27 and has confessed, officials said.

"This is a plot that would have involved martyrdom, explosives and certain of the tubes that connect New Jersey with Lower Manhattan," Mershon said. He called the threat "the real deal."

Hammoud was arrested before leaving for four months of training in Pakistan, and Lebanese investigators discovered details of a terrorist "project" on his computer that included a map "with a lot of details about New York," Lebanon's acting Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said in a telephone interview.

But authorities said there was no evidence that the plotters had taken any actions, such as buying explosives or sending money. They cast doubt on the feasibility of initial reports, which first appeared in the New York Daily News, that terrorists sought to flood Lower Manhattan and the Financial District by bombing tunnels.

There were conflicting assessments among U.S. counterterrorism officials about the significance of the alleged plot.

Two U.S. counterterrorism officials, speaking on the condition that their names and agencies not be identified because the FBI is the government's lead agency, discounted the ability of the conspirators to carry out an attack.

One said the alleged plot was "not as far along" as described and was "more aspirational in nature." The other described the threat as "jihadi bravado," adding "somebody talks about tunnels, it lights people up," but that there was little activity to back up the talk.

Speaking to reporters, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said, "It was never a concern that this would actually be executed. We were . . . all over this."

Authorities provided few details on two of the suspects who were arrested, declining to say where they had been apprehended. An FBI official said one was Canadian but was not being held in Canada. Mershon said officials had not planned to announce the arrests yesterday and criticized the leak to the media, saying it upset cooperation between the United States and six foreign governments assisting in the investigation.

Authorities said Hammoud, who also used the name Amir Andalousli, told investigators that he had planned the attacks for October or November and had sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

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