Web Monitoring Foiled NYC Attack, Feds Say

Federal agents say they foiled a plot to attack New York City's transit network, including bombing the Holland Tunnel, after learning about the plans by monitoring Internet chat rooms. The plot was planned by a group with possible ties to slain al-Qaida leader Musab al-Zarqawi.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, whatever happened to the seven guys arrested in Miami two weeks ago, allegedly plotting to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower? We'll have an update.

CHADWICK: Madeleine has that interview in Miami coming up in a few moments. First, though, we're going to go to Washington, because law enforcement authorities say they've disrupted another terrorist plot, this one targeting New York City.

A group was talking about blowing a hole in the Holland Tunnel, which connects lower Manhattan with New Jersey. The FBI says one man is in custody, and the investigation is ongoing. NPR's Larry Abramson is in Washington at NPR. Larry, what more about this plot?

LARRY ABRAMSON reporting:

Well, apparently, Alex, this plot was still in the planning stages. It was in the discussion stages, in fact. But the idea was basically to drive some sort of vehicle into the Holland Tunnel, which, as you know, is a very - I think it's a 100-year-old tunnel going through from lower Manhattan to New Jersey, to blow a hole in it - which would take a fair amount of explosives - and the hope was, from the terrorists, was that the rush of water would then flood lower Manhattan.

Now, The Daily News - The New York Daily News broke the story this morning when they found out about it. They said they also talked to some engineers who said it probably wouldn't have worked because it would be very difficult to blow a hole in this tunnel, and also that the financial district in lower Manhattan is actually above the level of the river, and so the water wouldn't really have risen as far as they wanted to. But this was their goal; it was basically to cause havoc, once again, in New York City.

CHADWICK: So it sounds like this was more in the planning stages. Have authorities found any explosives, Larry?

ABRAMSON: They haven't, and they have, however, arrested on of the suspects in Lebanon. This was, according to the FBI, a join operation with Lebanese security forces. The man is Amir Andalousli, who is also known as Assem Hammoud. He is in custody right now. He's a native of Beirut, and according to wire services over there, he has admitted to the plot.

However, there are several other members of the plot who are still at-large abroad. We're going to find out a little bit more about the status of the investigation when authorities in New York hold a news conference. But no, they didn't find any explosives. They were apparently monitoring Internet chat rooms when they heard about the discussion to put this plot together. But, again, we don't really know whether these people had the means or just the will to launch this attack.

CHADWICK: And it sounds as though it's not really clear whether the people who are associated with this plot are in the United States or if they're all overseas somewhere.

ABRAMSON: Right. We definitely know that there are more people overseas. It's possible that they had contacts within the United States. We also don't know -the FBI hasn't confirmed whether there was or was not a link to al-Qaida, and that, of course, is a key question. The group that we are going to hear more about, I guess, in Miami that was arrested two weeks ago apparently did not have links to al-Qaida. And one of the big questions among terror experts is whether groups are sort of forming themselves without strong affiliation but are taking their lead from al-Qaida without actually getting direct support or instructions from al-Qaida.

CHADWICK: You know, you wonder if this might not bolster New York's City case that it is a key terrorist target and the city should be getting more money for homeland security rather than seeing cuts.

ABRAMSON: I imagine that we will hear more about that, because, you know, New York's security funding was cut recently, and they complained that they are still a security target, and that they really are still, in the minds of terrorists, you know, the Big Apple, the one that they want to strike. Nevertheless, the Homeland Security Department decided that funds had to be re-allocated a different way. This will be a strong argument against changing that allocation.

CHADWICK: NPR's Larry Abramson. Thank you, Larry.

ABRAMSON: You're welcome, Alex.

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