US: Al-Qaida plotted 9/11 anniversary rail attack

Evidence collected from bin Laden's compound in Pakistan; "no information of imminent terrorist threat to US trains," US official assures.

World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Sara K. Schwittek)
World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Sara K. Schwittek)
WASHINGTON - Al-Qaida considered attacking the US rail sector on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, US government officials said on Thursday in describing intelligence from Osama bin Laden's hide-out in Pakistan.
They said some evidence was found indicating that the al-Qaida leader or his associates had engaged in discussions or planning for a possible attack on a train inside the United States on Sept. 11, 2011.
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"We have no information of any imminent terrorist threat to the US rail sector, but wanted to make our partners aware of the alleged plotting," spokesman Matthew Chandler said of an intelligence message the Department of Homeland Security sent on Thursday.
The department and other US agencies have been reviewing the treasure trove of information from bin Laden's compound in Pakistan seized by the United States during the raid this week that killed the al-Qaida leader.
The information indicated that one possible tactic for attacking a train was trying to somehow tip it off its tracks, one official said.
The official said that it appeared from the information that this was an idea that bin Laden or his associates considered, but there was no indication now from the intelligence that further plans were drawn up for the scheme or that steps were taken to carry it out.
Another official said al-Qaida in February last year contemplated the rail attack to occur on the 10th anniversary of the hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, but the group was not tied to that exact date.
Since the raid, the Department of Homeland Security has taken a number of steps in reviewing measures at all potential terrorist targets, including transportation systems across the country. It added more officers at airports and at the borders.
Department spokesman Chandler said the alleged al-Qaida 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.
Officials have long been concerned that al-Qaida might try to carry out attacks on the US rail system.
In 2008, US authorities warned of a possible al-Qaida 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 US authorities described as one of the most serious threats since the Sept. 11 attacks.