Terror network Al Qaeda had planned to attack the New York City subway system by releasing poisonous gas similar to the one used in Nazi death camps shortly before the US-led strikes in Iraq, a media report said.
Quoting federal and local counter-terrorism officials, it said, the plot was, however, called off at the last minute by Al Qaeda's second top boss Ayman al-Zawahiri for reasons that remain unclear, a news magazine said.
Details of the purported cyanide plot, it said are given in author Ron Suskind book The One Per cent Doctrine, to be published on June 20.
Newsweek magazine quoted a source familiar with the book's contents as saying that American authorities first learned about the cyanide plot from an informant inside Al Qaeda known as 'Ali.'
The initial intelligence about the subway plot was shared rapidly with local authorities in New York, including the New York Police Department, even though a public announcement was not made at the time, both a local and a federal official familiar with the plot were quoted as saying.
Spokesmen for the NYPD and FBI, the report said, declined to comment. The CIA had no immediate comment.
Suskind reports that in the spring of 2003, officials learned, apparently via Ali, that the Al Qaeda team was 45 days away from launching an attack on the New York subway system with a lethal gas similar to the one used in Nazi death camps in the weeks ahead of the US-led attacks on Iraq.
A few weeks earlier, US intelligence had discovered that Al Qaeda had invented an improvised cyanide delivery system that the terrorists had dubbed "mubtakkar", which Suskind says is an Arabic word for "inventive."
The deadly device comprised two separate chambers for sodium cyanide and a stable source of hydrogen, such as hydrogen acid. A seal between the two chambers could be broken by a remote trigger, producing the toxic gas for dispersal, the report said.
The attack was never launched, Suskind says, because Zawahiri, the principal deputy to Osama bin Laden, decided to call it off. Zawahiri remains at large and is believed to be with bin Laden.
Suskind's book claims that the terror cell responsible for the aborted attack remains at large inside the US.
One former and two current U.S. Counter-terrorism officials, whom Newsweek did not identify, are reported to have confirmed the existence of intelligence information about the alleged cyanide plot and the existence of mubtakkar, the makeshift cyanide bomb.
Two of the officials said that the device was actually quite primitive put together with beer cans and soda bottles. Still, the officials say, models of the device built from Al Qaeda designs by U.S. Authorities appeared to work.
The weapon was not regarded as the type of device that could cause large-scale, 9/11-style carnage, the officials told the magazine. But if set off in a crowded theater or arena was capable of killing hundreds of people.
Continued on page 2...