By Connor Adams Sheets
New York politicians are working to ensure that any terrorist plans to attack commuter rail lines are thwarted before they can be carried out, as was al-Qaeda-trained Flushing High School graduate Najibullah Zazi’s 2009 plot to blow up subway cars.
Intelligence gathered from 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan revealed a preliminary plot to attack American commuter railways, and legislators want to prevent such a plot from being carried out against the Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North Railroad. In one case, bin Laden had vague aspirations to derail a raised train traveling over a bridge on Christmas, which U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) said could apply many trains in the city.
“As we speak, they are analyzing a lot of the stuff they got from bin Laden’s lair,” Weiner said Monday at the 112th Precinct in Forest Hills, adding that the Christmas plot “describes the [No.] 7 train to a T. But I want to make it clear we are not aware of any specific threats to the city.”
Ever since the plots were revealed, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been pushing the Obama administration and congressional leaders to increase funding for rail system defense in the fiscal year 2012 Homeland Security appropriations bill and to enhance passenger screening on some train systems.
“We must remain vigilant in protecting ourselves from future terror attacks and when intelligence emerges that provides insight into potential vulnerabilities, we must act with speed,” he said in a statement. “Circumstances demand we make adjustments by increasing funding to enhance rail safety and monitoring on commuter rail transit.”
Despite the heightened attention to rail safety, four incidents took place in the city’s railways Sunday, affecting service and bringing up fears that the city’s trains are not as safe as they should be.
Reymundo Rodriguez of New Jersey allegedly entered a PATH train tunnel Sunday in Manhattan and walked 2 miles to Jersey City, N.J., where he allegedly told police officers he had left a bomb on the tracks, which proved to be a lie. In another breach of rail security, four young men were caught exploring the Second Avenue subway construction site Sunday after sneaking into the unfinished tunnel with cameras and roman candles.
Two other incidents also pointed to problems with the safety of the city’s rail system. Thirty people were injured Sunday morning when a runaway PATH train crashed into a platform at the end of the tracks in the Hoboken station. Later that day no one was hurt when four Amtrak train cars derailed in the East River tunnel due to a broken rail, disrupting passenger service on the Long Island Rail Road at least until Wednesday.
Zazi and two other men were arrested in late 2009 and early 2010 in connection with a plot to carry out suicide bombings in Manhattan subway stations on the morning of the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Zazi was arrested Sept. 19, 2009, in Colorado and pleaded guilty Feb. 22, 2010, to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support to al-Qaeda.
Two of Zazi’s former classmates at Flushing High School, Zarein Ahmedzay and Adis Medunjanin, were arrested in northeast Queens Jan. 7, 2010. Ahmedzay eventually pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. Adis Medunjanin denied Aug. 6, 2010, in federal court in Brooklyn that he was involved in the plot. Zazi and Ahmedzay admitted attending an al-Qaeda training camp in Waziristan, but Medunjanin said he did not do so.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.