Plot to blow up JFK is 'tip of the iceberg'

Times on Line  

The alleged conspiracy to blow up John F Kennedy airport, in New York, and a recent plot to kill soldiers at a nearby United States Army base represent only the "tip of the iceberg" of terrorist plots against America, according to US officials. 

"There's a lot of activity out there," a counter-terrorism official said yesterday.

 Storage tanks,  Plot to blow up JFK is tip of the iceberg
Abdul Kadir: suspected of plotting to attack fuel line

"Obviously, you don't want to tip off every suspect that they are being monitored. On the other hand, we are not going to wait until the fuse is lit."

He said that the airport plot, which sparked a lengthy FBI sting operation, was first detected by CIA operatives in the Caribbean and South America nearly 18 months ago.

"Our intelligence agencies pay careful attention to what goes on there," the official told The Daily Telegraph.

"Although a lot of the public focus is on Europe, we're also looking closely at the home-grown threat and what's going on in our own back yard."

He indicated that dozens of other plots were being monitored but that improved co-operation between the CIA and FBI - the patchy nature of which was a major criticism of the 9/11 Commission Report - was bearing fruit.

The FBI announced at the weekend that they had foiled a plan to blow up a 40-mile fuel pipeline to JFK airport, which handles a thousand flights a day. It was allegedly hatched by Russell Defreitas, a Guyanese-born American citizen who had enlisted the help of a Guyanese politician and a radical Islamist group in Trinidad, when he worked as a cargo handler at the airport before 1995.

 Storage tanks,  Plot to blow up JFK is tip of the iceberg
Buckeye fuel pipeline - click to enlarge

The counter-terrorism official said that although the plan "was not technically possible" it was one of many cases being investigated by the US government and highlighted the twin dangers of Muslim Islamists holding American passports and plots with links to other countries.

Three alleged plotters have been arrested. Surveillance tapes recorded Defreitas, 63, becoming enraged at seeing American missiles being shipped to Israel where, he believed, they would be used to kill Muslims.

He was recorded saying that he "wanted to do something to get those bastards".

The airport was a symbol that would put "the whole country in mourning" if it were destroyed.

"Any time you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States. To hit Kennedy.... They love John F Kennedy, wow... like he's the man. It's like you can kill the man twice."

His scheme could "cause greater destruction than in the September 11 attacks" and would be so large that "even the Twin Towers can't touch it", Defreitas said on separate occasions - a boast the authorities said was overblown. According to the FBI, Defreitas linked up with Kareem Ibrahim, a Trinidanian connected to the Jamaat Al-Muslimeen, an extremist Black Muslim group that attempted to overthrow the government of Trinidad in 1990, and two Guyanans, Abdul Kadir and Abdel Nur.

Nur, of Pakistani origin, is still at large. Kadir, an imam and former member of the Guyanese parliament, was arrested after a plane on which he was flying to Venezuela was turned back to Trinidad. His wife said he was heading to Iran for a "religious conference".

FBI officers taped another cell member, identified only as "Individual F" stating that Kadir had connections to terrorists in the Middle East and South America.

Both Trinidad and Guyana have large South Asian populations and influential Muslim communities.

 Storage tanks,  Plot to blow up JFK is tip of the iceberg
Storage tanks are seen on the grounds of John F. Kennedy Airport

The arrests came less than a month after the FBI announced that it had broken up another Islamist cell, mainly involving ethnic Albanians. Its members were accused of plotting to kill soldiers at the Fort Dix base in New Jersey.

As in the Fort Dix case, an FBI informant was used to infiltrate the alleged airport plotters.

"The FBI was all over the plot from the start and there was textbook co-operation with other agencies," said the counter-terrorism official.

"But this shows the threat posed by the unknown terrorist, the person who becomes almost self-radicalised.

"In this modern era, you can quickly gather a lot of information on-line and also reach out to international networks," he said.

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