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Rail security: Gov't warns of terror threat to trains

(The following story by Jim Popkin appeared on the MSNBC website on March 4.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a bulletin released Friday to U.S. law enforcement officials, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is warning of “continued strong terrorist interest” in targeting mass transit systems in the U.S. The 10-page threat assessment, labeled “Unclassified/For Official Use Only” and obtained by NBC News, cautions that the “U.S. mass transit and passenger rail systems are vulnerable to terrorist attacks because they are accessible to large numbers of the public and are notoriously difficult to secure.” Previous rail attacks in Madrid, London and Mumbai “could inspire terrorists to conduct similar attacks in the United States,” the report adds.

However, the authors of the intelligence analysis make clear that there are no known, immediate dangers. “At this time, there is no credible intelligence regarding specific plans by any extremist groups or individuals to perpetrate an act of terrorism against the U.S. mass transit system,” they write.

"Mass Transit System Threat Assessment"

The report is titled the “Mass Transit System Threat Assessment” and was prepared by TSA’s Office of Intelligence. It comes just weeks after Amtrak announced a series of new security measures. Amtrak does not routinely screen passengers or their baggage with metal detectors or other devices, as all U.S. airlines do. Instead, it announced on Feb. 19 that it would use so-called Mobile Security Teams to randomly check passengers and baggage.

The report identifies Al-Qaida as one of the “most likely actors” in potential attacks. “Al-Qa’ida and affiliated extremists pose the greatest threat to the U.S. mass transit and passenger rail system,” it states. “The threat to heavy and commuter rail in the Homeland is greater than the threat to buses and light rail. Attacks on buses overseas tend to be small-scale and are carried out mainly by smaller separatist groups within their own countries.” Other terror groups are a threat, too. “Lebanese Hizballah, which has supporters inside the United States, is less likely to attack U.S. domestic interests unless it perceives the United States has become a direct threat to its leadership, its armed capabilities, or to Iran,” the TSA authors write.

The threat from industry insiders:

TSA worries that rail-industry insiders might become terrorist accomplices: “The insider poses a significant threat to transportation security. Intelligence indicates the desire of terrorist groups such as al-Qa’ida to use individuals with insider knowledge of transportation sectors to help facilitate an attack against the United States,” the report states.

It cites two examples:

--“Asmin Amin Tariq, a security guard at Heathrow International Airport (LHR), was one of 24 people arrested in connection with the plan to blow up aircraft in the 2006 UK-U.S. transatlantic plot. Tariq helped Islamic extremists pose as airport employees so they could conduct surveillance of security procedures at Heathrow. Tariq allegedly provided information about airport security procedures to the would-be bombers,” the TSA writes.

--“Turkish citizen Adem Yilmaz, reportedly a member of the Islamic Jihad Union cell targeting Germany, was arrested in September 2007. Yilmaz was employed in the security division of rail operator Deutsche Bahn from 1997 until 2002. During that time he worked in the railway station of Frankfurt airport. The airport was one of several targets his cell that allegedly considered,” it adds.

Homemade explosives:

The TSA is concerned about the use of low-cost homemade explosives, and even an exotic chemical bomb called the “Mubtakar.” “Multiple improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and improvised incendiary devices (IIDs) are the most common means of attacking mass transit targets. Although homemade explosives are more likely to be used, chemical and biological attacks are also possible agents for terrorism,” the report says.

“Al-Qa’ida is reportedly interested in producing compact chemical dispersal devices. The group developed a small device called a mubtakar for disseminating cyanogen chloride and hydrogen cyanide. The device is considered efficient in enclosed spaces and could be effective if used in subway cars and underground rail stations,” the TSA analysts conclude.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

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