Al Qaeda was plotting an attack on the U.S. rail system for the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks this September, the U.S. government officials said on Thursday in describing intelligence from Osama bin Laden’s hide-out in Pakistan.
The plan, developed in February last year, was disclosed by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which issued a warning about it to law enforcement agencies around the US.
The plot emerged as sources said the CIA could read details of senior al-Qaeda leaders on the so-called “treasure trove” of computer files, because they were not encrypted.
“DHS issued an intelligence message May 5 to its federal, state, local and tribal partners about potential Al-Qa’ida contemplation in February 2010 of plots against the U.S. rail sector,” said DHS Press Secretary Matt Chandler in a statement.
The terrorist network is thought to have been planning to tamper with tracks so that a train would be derailed while crossing a bridge or valley, potentially killing hundreds of passengers.
“We wanted to make our partners aware of the alleged plotting,” Matthew Chandler said on Thursday night. “It is unclear if any further planning has been conducted”.
Chandler also said the alleged al Qaeda plot was based on “initial reporting, which is often misleading or inaccurate and subject to change.” He added: “We remain at a heightened state of vigilance,” but said there were no plans to raise the national threat level.
The DHS said since Sunday’s raid it had sent more officers to protect American airports and reviewed “protective measures for all potential terrorist targets”, including the entire US transport system.
It is also considering “new targeting rules” to help them identify “the risk of both passengers and cargo coming to the United States,” Mr Chandler added.
The plot is said to have been in the “aspirational”, rather than “operational” stages. No specific locations had been selected. But it will intensify long-standing fears that this year’s tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks will attract new threats.
An initial review of the information by U.S. intelligence analysts indicates that bin Laden played a direct role for years in plotting terror attacks, and was not just an inspirational figure to al-Qaeda, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
“He wasn’t just a figurehead,” the NY Times quoted a U.S. official as saying. “He continued to plot and plan, to come up with ideas about targets, and to communicate those ideas to other senior al-Qaeda leaders.”
In 2008, U.S. authorities warned of a possible al Qaeda threat to transit systems in and around New York City over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Last year, an Afghan immigrant pleaded guilty in New York to plotting a suicide bombing campaign on Manhattan’s subway system in what U.S. authorities described as one of the most serious threats since the September 11 attacks. [via The Telegraph (UK) and Reuters]