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FBI Warns of Transportation System Attacks

Al Qaeda prisoners say bridges and train routes may be targeted. Security is increased.

October 25, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The FBI issued a warning Thursday to state and local law enforcement officials nationwide about a possible attack soon against transportation systems, particularly railroads.

Officials said the warning, based on information obtained from Al Qaeda prisoners, suggested that terrorists may try to take out bridges, key sections of tracks or train locomotives in an effort to cause derailments and widespread damage.

"Information from debriefings of Al Qaeda detainees as of mid-October indicates that the group has considered directly targeting U.S. passenger trains, possibly using operatives who have a Western appearance," the FBI said in a statement.

Intelligence officials continue to believe that the terrorist organization plans to attack targets that would be readily recognized as representing U.S. economic interests, the FBI said.

Seized Al Qaeda photographs of locomotives, railcars and railroad crossings have increased concern about the threat, the FBI said.

Amtrak President David Gunn said federal transportation officials notified him about the warning. "The threat, like a lot of others, is not specific," Gunn said. "It's not targeted at anything per se."

Gunn said the passenger railroad is taking steps to enhance security and passenger safety, but declined to describe the measures except to say they will not be evident to riders.

Amtrak has increased patrols and freight railroads have tightened security, the FBI said.

Around the anniversary of last year's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Amtrak announced it intended to enforce tighter identification requirements, including random identification checks of passengers on trains. But the carrier decided to reconsider that plan and never implemented it.

Edward R. Hamberger, president of the Assn. of American Railroads, said the nation's rail system won't be a soft target. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, railroads developed a security plan that includes a round-the-clock operations center linking railroad control centers with law enforcement agencies and increased surveillance.

The Office of Homeland Security was contacting key state and local officials to urge their help and vigilance in warding off any such attack, spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

"The American people should still ride our nation's rails and know that this warning has been provided to state and local law enforcement, and the appropriate security officials, so they can take the appropriate steps to increase protective measures," Johndroe said.

"There are threats and those out there who are looking to do us harm here in the United States," New York Gov. George Pataki said.

He said Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge did not identify any specific target in New York. Even so, Pataki said, New York has "put out an advisory across the state to make sure that the public is vigilant and we are vigilant in protecting public services and infrastructure points across this state."

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