BEIRUT, Lebanon – Lebanese authorities found maps and bomb plans on the personal computer of an Al Qaeda suspect arrested in an alleged plot to attack train tunnels in New York City, a senior Lebanese official said Saturday.
"The information found in (Assem) Hammoud's personal computer was very important because it contained maps and bombing plans that were being prepared," acting Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said in a local television interview.
The FBI announced Friday that U.S. authorities had uncovered a plot to attack train tunnels under the Hudson River that carry thousands of commuters between New York and New Jersey every day. U.S. officials said the plot involved at least eight people overseas, including Hammoud --an alleged Al Qaeda operative arrested in Lebanon.
"We received information from the FBI in April about an attempt to plot a terror act in New York City through Internet communications in Lebanon," Fatfat said. "Based on this information, security forces acted and arrested Mr. Assem Hammoud."
Following Hammoud's arrest, Fatfat said Lebanese security services cooperated with the FBI to apprehend other members of the ring.
Officials said Hammoud confessed to the plot and had sworn allegiance Usama bin Laden.
"During the investigation, Assem Hammoud admitted that he was planning to go to Pakistan for four months for training on the implementation of this operation in New York and that the implementation date was the end of 2006," Fatfat said.
Bin Laden and his closest aides are believed to be hiding in the mountains along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported Saturday that Hammoud, 31 and codenamed Amir Andalousli, was the "mastermind" of an international ring to strike America.
In addition to Hammoud, the paper said a Syrian suspect was lured to Libya and arrested there, in addition to a third suspect whose nationality was unknown.
Other suspects still at large include a Saudi, a Yemeni, a Jordanian, a Palestinian, an Iranian Kurd and a sixth whose nationality was not known, As-Safir said.
A senior Lebanese security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said Hammoud was "a prime suspect" in the New York terror plot.
Security officials said they obtained "important information" from Hammoud's computer and CDs seized from his office at the Lebanese International University, where he taught economics.
"This information helped the investigators make Hammoud confess to his role in plotting a terror act in America," one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Hammoud, who lived in Beirut, was arrested April 27 by police acting on information from the FBI.
"Hammoud is a member of Al Qaeda and he confessed to this information frankly and without coercion," the official said. The suspect told investigators he was acting "on a religious order from (Al Qaeda leader Usama) bin Laden and said 'I am proud to carry out his orders'," he said.
The suspect's family denied any Al Qaeda links and his mother, Nabila Qotob, said Hammoud was an outdoors person who drank alcohol, had girlfriends and bore none of the hallmarks of an Islamic extremist belonging to the terror group.
Lebanese police issued a statement Friday saying that Hammoud belonged to "an extremist group that was in the process of preparing to carry a major terrorist act in the United States."
Under interrogation, Hammoud said he had downloaded detailed maps of the target from the Internet.
In New York, the FBI said the terrorist plot involved "martyrdom and explosives": suicide bombers who would attack train tunnels used by tens of thousands of commuters in an effort to bring death and flooding to lower Manhattan.
Eight suspects had hoped to pull off the attack in October or November, U.S. federal officials said. But federal investigators working with their counterparts in six other countries intervened before the suspects could travel to the United States and become a more serious threat, officials said Friday.
Initial reports said the suspects wanted to attack the Holland Tunnel, a major thoroughfare that carries cars beneath the Hudson River and into Manhattan.
But officials said the group, with five suspects still at large, had specifically mentioned only the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation train tunnels, which carry more than 215,000 passengers each weekday between New York and New Jersey.
"This is a plot that involved martyrdom and explosives," said FBI Assistant Director Mark J. Mershon.