Law enforcement officials said Friday that at least eight people have been arrested overseas in connection with a plot to attack New York City train tunnels, including an alleged Al Qaeda operative living in Lebanon.
At a press conference in New York, FBI Assistant Director Mark J. Mershon called the plot the "real deal" and confirmed the suspected Al Qaeda operative's identity as Assem Hammoud.
A Lebanese security official, speaking on the condition of anonimity, said Hammoud confessed to plotting to attack New York City tunnels in October or November of this year and said he was acting on Usama bin Laden's orders.
Hammoud, who claimed to be 31 and a resident of Beirut, said he had been ordered to live a life of fun and indulgence in Lebanon to hide his Islamic militancy, an official statement from the Lebanese government said, adding that he was instructed not to show any religious tendencies.
Hammoud told investigators he was acting "on a religious order from bin Laden and said 'I am proud to carry out his orders'," the official said.
Initial reports said the terrorists wanted to attack the Holland Tunnel. But Mershon said the group specifically mentioned only the PATH train tunnels between New York and New Jersey.
"We believe we intercepted this group early in their plotting and, in fact, the plan has largely been disrupted," Mershon said.
"This is a plot that involved martyrdom and explosives and certain of the tubes that connect Jersey and lower Manhattan."
Details of the plot emerged on the one-year anniversary of the attacks on the London transportation system that killed 52 people.
A federal official said FBI agents monitoring Internet chat rooms used by extremists learned of the plot in recent months and determined that tunnels were possibly being targeted after investigators pieced together code words from their conversations.
In a joint statement, Homeland Security and the FBI said, the investigation was ongoing.
"We know Al Qaeda continues to have an interest in attacking the United States," it added. "At this point in time, there is no specific or credible information that Al Qaeda is planning an attack on U.S. soil."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.