"We have disrupted a terrorist network that was in the planning stages of an attack," the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.
Officials said the FBI had been monitoring Internet chat rooms and cited the arrest of a key suspect by Lebanese authorities as a significant break in the investigation.
Lebanese authorities, working with U.S. law enforcement agencies, arrested an al-Qaida operative who admitted to plotting a terror attack in New York City, a senior Lebanese security official said Friday.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said the arrest was made a month ago. The suspect was identified as Amir Andalousli, but his real name is Assem Hammoud, a Beirut native, the official said. The official said he was an al-Qaida member and had confessed to the plot.
New York's transportation system has emerged as a potential terrorist threat in several recent cases. A June book by journalist Ron Suskind highlighted a reported plot by al-Qaida terrorists to kill thousands of New Yorkers by spreading cyanide gas in the subway. In May, a man was convicted of plotting to blow up a subway station.
In the latest case, a federal official said FBI agents monitoring Internet chat rooms used by extremists learned of the plot in recent months and determined that tunnels were possibly being targeted after investigators pieced together code words from their conversations.
The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said terrorists were looking at Lower Manhattan but there was no specific target mentioned. Federal officials indicated that there was a difference of opinion among investigators as to what the actual target was, the official said.
The case has apparently been under investigation for about a year, and authorities believe there were multiple conspirators.
"At this time we have no indication of any imminent threat to the New York transportation system, or anywhere else in the U.S.," Richard Kolko, Washington-based FBI special agent, said in a statement to Associated Press Radio.
One U.S. official called the plot "largely aspirational" and described the Internet conversations as mostly extremists discussing and conceptualizing the plot. The official said no money had been transferred, nor had other similar operational steps been taken.
Details of the plot emerged on the one-year anniversary of the attacks on the London transportation system that killed 52 people.
FBI disrupts New York transportation plot
Pat Milton, Associated Press, July 7, 2006
While I wouldn't know whether the timing of this press release is accidental or not it is certainly interesting that the discovery of this "largely aspirational" plot to attack the largest American city's transportation system happened exactly a year to the date of a highly suspicious but very deadly attack on the largest British city's transportation system.
The authorities must certainly be congratulated on a successful operation. It doesn't matter how many lives they may have saved for even one victim of terrorism is obviously one too many. However it must be noted that the alleged terrorist' savvy is far less than impressive and it is likely their plot would never have amounted to much. The suspects' clumsy communication habits match those of their alleged Toronto counterparts. And their lack of preparedness seems as profound as that of the "Miami seven".
There is not much to say about this until more information emerges. However, this report as many other post 9/11 reports of alleged Muslim terrorist activity appears to be both overblown and well-timed to generate maximum political benefit to the Bush administration in the war on terror.