New York City (CNSNews.com) - An alleged plot by a terror network overseas to bomb a transportation tunnel under the Hudson River linking New York City with New Jersey was uncovered through an unprecedented cooperation of law enforcement around the world, authorities in New York said Friday. Three men are said to be in custody. Five others were believed involved.
The goal of the terrorists was to flood Lower Manhattan and cause economic chaos, according to the FBI, which conducted a joint investigation with the Department of Homeland Security and received crucial assistance from the Lebanese government.
The alleged plot was interrupted in "the early planning phases," the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security stated. "We have disrupted a terrorist network that was in the planning stages of an attack against the transportation system in the New York-New Jersey area," the joint statement added.
According to information released by the FBI, the plot allegedly targeted the rail tunnels operated by the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey's PATH train system. PATH operates two tunnels, one of which ends at the site of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda sponsored terrorist attacks.
PATH trains carry an estimated 215,000 people per weekday between New Jersey and Manhattan.
The alleged terrorists apparently intended to use explosives to flood the tunnels that are just over 90 feet under the surface of the Hudson River. And while their apparent goal was to use the flooding to create economic chaos on Wall Street, authorities insisted Friday that even if an explosion had occurred in the PATH tunnel, or any tunnel under the Hudson River or New York's East River, flooding in Manhattan would not have occurred.
Friday's news conference, announcing the foiling of the alleged terror plot, came on the first anniversary of a series of London subway bombings that killed 52 people.
"We have been focusing on al Qaeda followers who were targeting tunnels," said Mark Mershon, assistant director for the FBI in New York City. "One subject is in custody in Lebanon. He is identified as 31-year-old Assem Hammoud, a Lebanese citizen and the self-described mastermind of the plot. The plot apparently was scheduled to be played out in October or November 2006."
The FBI believes there were eight individuals involved in the terror planning, but there is no link yet with anyone currently on U.S. soil.
"The principal players are not in this country. We have identified those eight individuals. Three are currently in custody. They have not been in this country to our awareness," said Mershon. "This is a plot that would have involved martyrdom, explosives and a certain number of the tubes (tunnels) that connect New Jersey with Lower Manhattan."
The plot, which FBI agents detected while monitoring Internet chat rooms, was in the process of escalating into the planning phase, Mershon said, at which point the FBI decided "to shut the plot down."
"We believe we disrupted this plot early. The suspect arrested in Lebanon alleged an allegiance to bin Laden. He alleged to be a member of al Qaeda," said Mershon.
New York City, on high alert ever since the 9/11 attacks took the threat seriously.
"This plot was in the planning stage. Even though we deployed additional resources for the last few months, we will continue to focus our resources on transportation," said New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Kelly praised the work of the intelligence services around the world and said the break-up of the terror plan shows how far intelligence efforts have progressed since 9/11. "It tells us we are able to disrupt plots with good relationships with law enforcement agencies around the world. It also shows that New York City is still in the crosshairs," said Kelly.
While there was a visible increase in the number of police officers manning the entrances to New York City's bridges, tunnels and commuter rail system on Friday, Kelly said that increased presence was due to the anniversary of the London rail bombings and not the interruption of the New York plot.
"We recognize these threats are very serious. This is one more reminder that our safety can be menaced from any corner of the globe. We will pursue this investigation vigorously," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Mershon also stated that due to a leak of information to the media regarding the terrorist plans, international agencies involved felt uncomfortable and worried that the investigation could be jeopardized.
U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told the Associated Press that federal and New York authorities have been monitoring the plot to attack the city's mass transit system for at least eight months. King has been outspoken about decreases in New York City's share of federal anti-terror funds.
According to a statement released Thursday on the website of the Department of Homeland Security, $400 million will now be made available for anti-terror programs. New York City will be receiving about $40 million solely for the commuter rail system.
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