By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 2, 2006
A group of alleged terrorists arrested in London in August planned to blow up airliners over U.S. cities to maximize casualties, rather than over the Atlantic Ocean as many intelligence officials originally thought, according to recent remarks by a senior FBI official.
The comments by Mark Mershon, head of the FBI's New York field office, indicate that U.S. and British intelligence officials now think that the airliner plot was aimed at maximizing the potential loss of life and economic impact.
"The plan was bring them down over U.S. cities, not over the ocean," Mershon said Oct. 24 at the Infosecurity 2006 conference in New York, according to Government Security News, which first reported the remarks this week.
Authorities had previously said it was unclear where the alleged terrorists intended to detonate liquid explosives, which they planned to smuggle onto as many as 10 transatlantic flights. Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said shortly after the plot was thwarted that while the conspirators appeared to be targeting nonstop flights to the United States, "the real focus was to blow up airliners and the people on them."
British police arrested 25 people in raids across Britain after uncovering the alleged plot. Eleven have been charged with conspiracy to murder and preparing acts of terrorism. Two brothers, Umair Hussain, 25, and Mehran Hussain, 23, were released Wednesday after a British court ruled evidence against them was insufficient to warrant a trial.
Christine Monaco, a spokeswoman for the FBI in New York, declined to comment on Mershon's speech.
Mershon told cybersecurity conference attendees that representatives of MI5, the British intelligence service, briefed the FBI on the liquid explosives case in recent weeks. "It would make your hair stand up to be in the room to hear that presentation," Mershon said, according to GSN.
Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and Georgetown University professor, said the case indicates that Islamic extremists remain focused on attacking U.S. cities.
"They were clearly desirous of exceeding 9/11," Hoffman said. "The loss of life on the air and ground would be significant."