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Pipeline plot demonstrates dangers of mundane targets

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by Tom Hays on June 5.)

NEW YORK ó Until a suspected terrorist plot was revealed, few people even knew there was a pipeline of highly combustible jet fuel snaking beneath the city.

But authorities said Monday it's one of countless lesser-known targets ó including waterway retaining walls, dingy rail yards and tunnel-ventilation systems ó that they struggle to protect from attacks.

New York police spend "considerable time and resources protecting the landmarks nearly everyone would recognize as emblematic of New York and America," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. "But we also protect the anonymous, unheralded elements of infrastructure that are essential to the life of the city."

Police were aware that the fuel system feeding John F. Kennedy International Airport posed a risk well before investigators unearthed an alleged conspiracy by a homegrown Muslim terrorist cell to blow it up, with the goal of killing thousands of people and inflicting major damage on the U.S. economy.

The accused mastermind of the plot, Russell Defreitas, 63, was in custody Monday in New York, where he is due to have a bail hearing Wednesday.

Two other suspects, Kareem Ibrahim and Abdul Kadir, a former member of Guyana's Parliament, were in Trinidad and planned to fight extradition to the United States. The two made their initial court appearance Monday on one count each of conspiracy to commit a terrorist act against the government of the United States. The judge set a bail hearing for June 11 and an extradition hearing Aug. 2.

Authorities in Trinidad are seeking a fourth suspect, Abdel Nur.

Also Monday, a law-enforcement official confirmed reports that the suspects had been captured on tape discussing trying to recruit Adnan Gulshair El Shukrijumah, an alleged al-Qaida member and bomb maker. The suspects allegedly sought support from fellow extremists in Trinidad and Guyana, where El Shukrijumah grew up.

But there was no evidence that the men ever made contact with El Shukrijumah, said the official, who requested anonymity because the investigation had not been completed.

Pipeline networks don't carry the stature of sites such as Wall Street, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, so the general public doesn't give them much notice.

But authorities "think about them every day," said Kelly McCann, president of Kroll Security Group and a former Marine officer. "They're fully focused on them and feeling overwhelmed."

For example, the NYPD has monitored the hulking ventilation towers along the Hudson River that feed fresh air to the Lincoln and Holland tunnels for signs of a chemical attack. Tens of thousands of cars pass through the tunnels each day, and they are usually filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hours. If a toxic substance got in the tunnel, it could be devastating.

The NYPD has also quietly used its scuba unit to inspect retaining walls on the East River near the United Nations for any signs of underwater mines. In addition, officers have sought to secure rail yards, fearing that terrorists might try to tamper with rail cars carrying dangerous chemicals through the city.

The pipeline system allegedly targeted by the suspects in the latest case is huge, winding its way through all corners of the city. It is part of a national pipeline network run by Buckeye Partners LP that serves major airports in New York, Chicago, Detroit and Pennsylvania, among other locations. The network also delivers jet fuel to military bases.

The pipeline is designed to shut off when it detects heat, a feature that would have prevented the chain-reaction explosion the plotters allegedly envisioned, authorities said.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

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