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Fears of Terrorist Attack Disrupt Baltimore Tunnels

October 19, 2005|Ryan G. Murphy | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Acting on a "somewhat specific" security threat, authorities in Maryland restricted traffic in underwater highway tunnels in Baltimore on Tuesday, paralyzing traffic for hours in the congested East Coast corridor that connects New York and Washington.

Federal investigators interviewed people who might have had information about the security threat, while state and local officials searched the tunnels and stopped trucks and vans to look for suspicious material.

Neither the searches nor the interviews uncovered plans for an attack.

The shutdown followed a security crackdown in the New York subway system for several days starting Oct. 6, after authorities received a tip later suspected of being bogus.

The Baltimore threat was considered uncorroborated but was "somewhat specific as to date and time," said Kevin Perkins, FBI special agent in Baltimore.

The Ft. McHenry Tunnel along Interstate 95 was limited to one lane and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel along I-895 was closed from about 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. "Our No. 1 priority in a situation like this is always public safety," said Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Maryland Transportation Authority Police Chief Gary W. McLhinney said it took 80 police officers minutes to close the tunnels. McLhinney said that he received information from federal agencies last week that justified the tunnel closings and decided on the action Tuesday morning.

Perkins refused to comment on reports that the FBI was interviewing six to eight Egyptians about an overseas tip concerning an attack plan. He said agents were interviewing several individuals but would not discuss specifics of the investigation.

A U.S. intelligence official said the closure of the tunnels was done in an "abundance of caution," based on intelligence from Europe that was uncorroborated -- information based on a single source or not shown to be a genuine threat.

"This information has been out there a while and it's definitely not corroborated," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But there were specifics to it and it did come from overseas."

He said the report specifically mentioned tunnels in Baltimore.

One FBI official questioned why local authorities closed the tunnels.

"This is just like New York," the official said. "It seems to be a tremendous overreaction."

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Times staff writers Josh Meyer and Greg Miller contributed to this report.

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