Officials Say Foreign Plan to Attack NYC Disrupted

Law enforcement officials say they've thwarted a plan by foreign terrorists to bomb a tunnel that connects New York City and New Jersey. The planners reportedly wanted to blow up the Holland Tunnel in the hopes of flooding lower Manhattan.

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LYNN NEARY, host

Law enforcement officials say they've thwarted a plan by foreign terrorists to bomb a key tunnel that connects New York City and New Jersey. The planners reportedly wanted to blow up the Holland Tunnel in the hopes of flooding lower Manhattan. The plot was first reported in today's New York Daily News. NPR's Larry Abramson is following the story. He joins me now.

Larry, first of all, what exactly do we know about this plot?

LARRY ABRAMSON reporting:

Well, we know that it was targeting the Holland Tunnel. Other news reports say that other transportation links were involved. I have been told by law enforcement officials that it was the Holland Tunnel, the major tunnel linking southern Manhattan, the financial district, with New Jersey; and that the idea was to drive some sort of a truck into the tunnel, explode it, have water come rushing into the tunnel. And the theory was that this would flood lower Manhattan, this is partly according to The Daily News. But they also talked to some engineers who note that southern Manhattan, lower Manhattan, is above sea level, above the river level at that point. So there might have been a surge of water, but that you wouldn't Katrina-style flooding, which, apparently, is what some of these plotters were hoping. However, they could, of course, endanger the lives of the thousands of people who use the Holland Tunnel, so it could have been serious.

NEARY: Now, one of the alleged plotters has been arrested. Is anything known about him?

ABRAMSON: Not very much. His name is Amir Andalousli, although that apparently is a pseudonym. His real name is Assem Hammoud, who was arrested by Lebanese authorities. And, according to wire services, he was arrested and has confessed to the plot. We haven't been able to confirm that. The rest of the plotters who are involved, however, are believed to be at-large overseas. And some FBI officials and other law enforcement authorities were hoping to keep this under wraps for a while longer, so that they could catch these guys. This is going to make it a little bit more difficult for them. And I think they're struggling to figure out how to handle the release of this information...

NEARY: So they're unhappy about the fact that this alleged plot was leaked to the media.

ABRAMSON: Yes. Yes. They like to trumpet arrests of terror suspects, of course. As we know, they recently arrested a group in Miami, two weeks ago, who were accused of plotting to attack the Sears Tower in Chicago, but then they had everybody in custody. I think they wanted to wait a little bit longer for this one.

NEARY: Now, that plot that you just mentioned. That plot was described as more aspirational than operational.

ABRAMSON: Right.

NEARY: This one apparently was still in the planning stages. When does talk of a possible attack become a crime?

ABRAMSON: Well, you know, U.S. officials have been trying to push that boundary backwards as far as possible and to try to interrupt these plots before they get to the operational phase, before any explosives are even purchased. And, in this case, there were apparently no means to actually do this; this was mostly Internet chat that was going on. That was at least part of the way they were able to uncover it. And their argument is that if you want us to prevent crime, rather than just go after the plotters after they've committed it, we have to get in there pretty early. But I think a lot of people in some of these recent plots have said, well, these people are would-be terrorists, they're not as dangerous as we thought.

I think as the details come out, that will be a key question - was there a link to al-Qaida? There are indications that this Lebanese man who's been arrested did have some links to al-Qaida. But we'll need to confirm that to see whether or not these people were freelancing, just chatting, possibly. However, it is a crime to conspire in any way to commit these acts, and the federal government has pretty harsh about going after people for even just talking about this sort of attack.

NEARY: Well, thanks so much for being with us, Larry.

ABRAMSON: Okay. Thank you, Lynn.

NEARY: NPR's Larry Abramson. And to recap, law enforcement officials say they've disrupted a plan by foreign terrorists to bomb the Holland Tunnel. One of the alleged plotters has been arrested.

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