Feds: Plot to attack NYC transit network foiled
(New York-WABC, July 7, 2006) (WABC) -- Authorities say they've uncovered a web of foreign terrorists who wanted to attack the New York City-area transportation system.
The plan: Bomb the Path tubes connecting New Jersey and Lower Manhattan to unleash a flood of water.
And ABC News has learned that the plan was to place 15 or 20 people on a Path train, people with explosives, to blow the train up and do damage to the tunnels.
But the FBI says the attack was just in the planning stage. Now, the accused mastermind is under arrest and a half dozen others are being sought.
We have team coverage from Manhattan to New Jersey. We begin with Eyewitness News reporter Stacey Sager at the Path station in Lower Manhattan.
Here's what we learned at an afternoon news conference: The attack was being planned for October or November of this year. The alleged mastermind, 31-year-old Assem Hammoud, comes from Lebanon and he confessed. He also mentioned Osama bin Laden by name and Al Qaeda, officials say.
Security is always a concern on the mass transit system to and from Manhattan, then today on the Path trains as thousands head home for the weekend, it's that much more of a concern.
On Friday afternoon, federal and local law enforcement officials as well as politicians and Port Authority confirmed the significant plot involving suicide bombers in half a dozen foreign countries had been foiled.
"This is a plot that would have involved martyrdom, explosives and certainly terrorist connected in New Jersey and in Manhattan," an FBI official said.
Here is what we know: The FBI has identified eight principal players, three of them in custody so far and one formerly charged in Lebanon.
"His [Hammoud] adherence to the philosophy to Al Qaeda and the swearing of allegiance to Osama bin Laden," the FBI official added.
What officials did not say is whether Al Qaeda leaders were familiar with Hammoud or whether they funded him.
"There is no indication that materials were secured or that specific reconnaissance was done ... there was a lot of discussion and what we call planning being done," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
Kelly said that coincidentally all security on mass transit had been stepped up because it's the one year anniversary of the London subway bombings.
Now to security in and around the path system. Eyewitness News reporter Joe Torres is in Lower Manhattan with that part of the story.
With 215,000 riders using Path train service each day, it's easy to see why terrorists would focus their attention on this major transportation link between Manhattan and New Jersey.
Of the four tunnels in the Path train system, two connect the World Trade Center station in Lower Manhattan to Exchange Place in Jersey City. Another pair of tunnels also run below the Hudson River, providing connections between 33rd Street in Midtown Manhattan to Hoboken.
The mile-long tunnels date back to 1874. They emerge from bedrock on one side of the Hudson, decline 80 to 100 feet below the water level, through sand and silt underneath the riverbed, and then emerge back into bedrock on the far side of the river.
Experts say an explosion in the tunnel would not flood the Financial District or Tribeca because lower Manhattan sits above sea level.
Passengers will soon notice much needed safety and security improvements on the 340 car fleet.
The Port Authority is in the midst of a $3.1 billion dollar investment which includes all new cars, a new signal system and the ability for passengers to communicate with train personnel in the event of an emergency.
News of the terror plot has many commuters concerned. Eyewitness News reporter Michelle Charlesworth spoke with riders.
People rode the Path this morning, reading the paper and worried about a plot to blow up the Holland Tunnel. So it was a shock for them to hear that it was their tunnels that were targeted.
"I'm not gonna let that deter me from what I have to do on a daily basis cause that's what they want you to do to scare you into not doing what you have to do," one rider we spoke with said.
"I'm still gonna take the Path regardless. I'm not gonna worry about it ya know? I'm still gonna do what I have to do, go where I have to go," another rider said.
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