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Religious message halts train

(The following article by Jason George was posted on the New York Times website on July 22.)

NEWARK, N.J. -- For 90 minutes on Thursday morning, passengers aboard an Amtrak train headed to New York and Boston were questioned and videotaped as the seven cars were searched after a note containing Muslim and anti-Semitic phrases was found in a bathroom.

No arrests were made at Pennsylvania Station in Newark, where the train was stopped just before 8 a.m., but all 450 passengers were asked to give their names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other information. They were videotaped before being allowed to continue.

The train, Amtrak Train 170, left 30th Street Station in Philadelphia at 6:55 a.m., on time and without incident, according to passengers. But around 7:45, minutes before pulling into Newark, a public address announcement asked passengers to remain seated, said Al Leckerman, a passenger who was traveling to New York.

"There is nothing alarming," he and another passenger remembered the announcer saying.

Once at Newark's Pennsylvania Station, New Jersey Transit officers boarded the train. And within minutes, the Amtrak and Newark police, as well as two F.B.I. agents, joined them in searching for the note's author, whom the police had not found by Thursday evening.

The note, affixed to a mirror, was discovered by a passenger who notified the cafe car attendant, said Dan Stessel, an Amtrak spokesman. It made statements against Jews and praised God, said law enforcement officials, who would not detail its text but said it made no explicit threats. The F.B.I. is examining the note.

Officers used a computer that appeared to check identification cards, while another waved a wandlike device past luggage in racks above the seats, Mr. Leckerman said. An officer walked the aisles taping passengers with a video camera, said Lynn Martin Haskin, a commuter. A police dog was also used.

It wasn't until the train left Newark for Pennsylvania Station in New York that the usual din of clacking track, cellphone rings and laughter returned to the car's cabin and everyone could relax, Ms. Haskin said. "It felt like a big collective sigh of relief."

William K. Rashbaum and Adam Sank contributed reporting from New York for this article.

Friday, July 23, 2004

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