NEW YORK -- The FBI disrupted
a plot by al Qaeda allies to detonate a bomb in a PATH commuter train
tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan, authorities said yesterday.
A 31-year-old man, described as the mastermind of the scheme, was
jailed in Lebanon after allegedly confessing his role and admitting
his allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Two other men were detained
overseas and five more, also foreign born, have been identified as
suspects, agents said.
Officials were reluctant to provide details of the plot, but cautioned
that there was no imminent threat to residents or commuters. The
alleged terror cell was discovered in 2005, and investigators said
planners hoped to carry out an attack in October or November of this
None of the suspects had entered the United States, and agents found
no evidence that they had amassed weapons.
Still, authorities said the investigation provided a stark reminder
that the United States and particularly New York City remains an
active terrorism target.
"This is a plot that would have involved martyrdom, explosives and
certain of the (PATH) tubes that connect New Jersey to Lower
Manhattan," said Mark Mershon, the assistant director in charge of the
FBI's New York Division.
The Port Authority Trans-Hudson trains carry about 215,000 passengers
each weekday between New Jersey and lower Manhattan. Two PATH lines
end at the site of the former World Trade Center.
Assem Hammoud, the alleged mastermind, was jailed on terror-related
charges by the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, officials said.
There was no indication that he would face prosecution in the United
Investigators declined to identify the other suspects, or those who
had been detained, because they said they had not been charged.
The probe, launched last year, spanned three continents. Led by the
FBI, it also involved the New York Police Department, the Port
Authority police and agencies in six foreign nations.
FBI and state homeland security officials in New Jersey said they had
been aware of the investigation, but declined to elaborate.
News of the arrests coincided with the one-year anniversary of the
London subway bombings that killed 52 people and injured hundreds
Mershon said the bureau had hoped to keep the plot secret but was
forced to disclose it after details were reported in yesterday's
editions of the New York Daily News.
Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said the terror suspects hoped
to detonate a bomb in the Holland Tunnel and unleash devastating
floods in the city's financial district. Agents learned of the plot by
monitoring Internet chat rooms, according to the newspaper.
Authorities disputed that the tunnel was the key target, but refused
to say how they identified the suspects or their intentions.
Mershon criticized the public disclosure, saying the unauthorized leak
led to "a number of uncomfortable questions and some upset" among
foreign intelligence agencies. He said the paper's source was "clearly
someone who doesn't understand the fragility of international
NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Port Authority Police
Superintendent Samuel Plumeri said they had increased the number of
officers in Lower Manhattan and on the commuter trains in recent
weeks. Kelly stressed that the plot "had not reached anything close to
operational" but said it showed that the city was under constant
"New York still remains in the cross hairs of the terrorists," he
The disclosure comes at the same time New York leaders have been
decrying cuts in federal counterterrorism funding. Officials were
cautious not to link the two.
"The amount of money that we get from Homeland Security does not
directly impact the quality or the magnitude of our efforts to keep
this city safe, nor will it," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "Whether
we got the security moneys or not, this has nothing to do with this
At a public appearance in Boston, Homeland Security Secretary Michael
Chertoff said his department was made aware of the probe several
months ago. He said the investigation reflects improved global
cooperation and intelligence in counterterrorism efforts, and that the
public should remain vigilant but calm.
"I wouldn't hesitate to tell my family to get on the subway here or
all over the country to ride," Chertoff said. "We shouldn't give
terrorists the idea they can scare us off our trains."
Staff writers Robert Cohen and Rick Hepp contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Star Ledger