WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Al Qaeda has
deployed operatives to hijack planes and
fly them into targets in an echo of the
Sept. 11 attacks and is looking at
derailing trains possibly carrying
hazardous material, according to a top
U.S. intelligence official.
America West Airbus jetliner
departs Las Vegas McCarran
Airport in this 2004 file photo.
Robert Hutchings, chairman of the
National Intelligence Council which
reports to the CIA director, did not
give details of the plots but provided
the most recent public outline from an
intelligence official of the al Qaeda
The network, blamed for the Sept 11,
2001, attacks that killed 3,000 people,
seeks targets that would strike a blow
to the U.S. economy, Hutchings said in a
Jan. 14 speech to the International
Security Management Association in
Arizona, the text of which was posted on
Feb. 4 on the NIC's Web site.
"Soft targets, including the
U.S. stock market, banks, major
companies, and tall buildings are a
primary focus of active al Qaeda
planning," he said.
Those targets are seen as easier to
hit than U.S. government buildings and
major infrastructure, which have higher
security, Hutchings said.
Al Qaeda has looked at derailing
trains, perhaps carrying hazardous
materials, to attack U.S. interests, he
Nuclear power plants, water treatment
facilities, and other public utilities
are high on al Qaeda's target list, he
The U.S. government is concerned that al
Qaeda will try to take its ability to
build truck bombs as demonstrated by
past attacks in Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and
Turkey, and marry it with toxic or
radioactive material to increase the
damage and psychological impact of an
attack, Hutchings said.
"My biggest worry, however, is
how far al Qaeda might have progressed
in being able to deploy a chemical,
nuclear, or biological weapon against
the United States or its allies,"
U.S. authorities have found several
examples of al Qaeda adjusting its
tactics to circumvent increased airline
security, Hutchings said, without
"Although we have disrupted
several airline plots, we have not
eliminated the threat to
airplanes," he said. "There
are still al Qaeda operatives who we
believe have been deployed to hijack
planes and fly them into key
The United States has beefed up
security at airports and on airlines.
There were a spate of flight
cancellations since late December
because of potential threats.
U.S. authorities have succeeded in
disrupting the network, Hutchings said.
"We have disrupted scores of plots
at home and abroad -- plots that were
audacious in terms of the numbers of
attacks under consideration and their
global scope," he said.