U.S. reveals Al Qaida plot to attack N.Y. commuter bridge

Saturday, June 21, 2003

The United States has disclosed a plot by Al Qaida to target major U.S. infrastructure in an effort to achieve massive civilian casualties.

U.S. officials said Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden met with a key operative and ordered the attacks on U.S. bridges and trains. The operative was identified as Iyman Faris, also known as Mohammed Rauf, a U.S. citizen.

Attorney General John Ashcroft told a news conference on Thursday that the Columbus, Ohio resident pleaded guilty on May 1 to charges of conspiracy as well as providing material support to Al Qaida. The plea by the 34-year-old truck driver, was concealed by U.S. authorities until Ashcroft's announcement.

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"From late 2000 to March of this year, Faris worked in concert with Al Qaida, our enemies, to plot potential attacks against America and its citizens," Ashcroft said. "On any given day, Iyman Faris appeared to be a hard-working, independent truck driver. He freely crisscrossed the country making deliveries to airports and businesses without raising suspicion. But Iyman Faris led a double life."

Officials said Al Qaida had planned to carry out an attack that would result in thousands of casualties. They said Bin Laden wanted to launch an attack that would match or exceed the suicide strikes in New York and Washington that destroyed the World Trade Center and a wing of the Defense Department. More than 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Al Qaida's latest targets, officials said, was a bridge that connected two boroughs in New York City. They said Faris was ordered to obtain equipment to sever the cables of what was believed to have been the Brooklyn Bridge.

Officials said Faris, a native of Kashmir who entered the United States in 1994 and obtained citizenship in 1999, told Al Qaida through coded messages through the Internet that the plan was not feasible. They said Faris told investigators that his abort message was "The weather is too hot."

Faris was also said to have met Bin Laden during visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Officials said he helped provide Al Qaida with airline flight tickets, cellular phones and information on ultra-lite aircraft. The tickets were meant to facilitate the flight of Al Qaida operatives to Yemen.

The meeting between Bin Laden and Faris took place in late 2000, Ashcroft said. He said Faris was also ordered to help prepare for an attack meant to derail commuter trains. Faris's handler was believed to have been Khalid Sheik Mohammed, captured in March in Pakistan and relayed to U.S. custody. Ashcroft said the train attack was to have taken place between April 2002 and March 2003.

"He [Faris] was told of plans for another simultaneous operation in New York City and Washington D.C.," Ashcroft said.

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