U.S. intelligence is now in possession of a veritable "playbook" of al Qaeda operations -- from potential terror attack targets to information on international safe houses and top commanders -- thanks to the Navy SEAL raid that took down Osama bin Laden Sunday, officials told ABC News today.
The cache of electronic and handwritten materials obtained by the SEALs includes numerous hallmark al Qaeda plots including attacks on infrastructure targets such as water supply and transportation including rail and air, in what one official described as a "strategic guide for how to attack the U.S." In the past, al Qaeda planned for attacks on water supplies have included an interest in mining dams and in poisoning water supply. Intelligence experts have also have found what appears to be information about safe houses around the world and about al Qaeda leadership.
It is unclear just how active bin Laden was in coordinating any operations or in blessing overall strategies and plots. One official said bin Laden appears to have thought of himself as something of a head coach to al Qaeda.
What is clear, officials said, is that intelligence analysts see weeks ahead of data mining and linking the cache of materials to past knowledge of plots that has come from detainees, cases and various forms of intercepts and surveillance.
While as yet no specific plots have been uncovered, there is a clear interest in attacks on the for most prominent U.S. cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
The materials make clear that while at times in the past it has been suggested that dates are not a factor in Al Qaeda attack planning, in fact, one of the terror group's aspirations was to launch attacks on symbolic dates like Sept. 11, in hopes of giving even greater resonance to any success.
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A bulletin issued Thursday by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and obtained by ABC News describes the terror organization's chilling desire to derail a train on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
"As of February 2010, al-Qa'ida was allegedly contemplating conducting an operation against trains at an unspecified location in the United States on the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001," the document reads, using an alternate spelling for bin Laden's terror group. "As one option, al-Qa'ida was looking into trying to tip a train by tampering with the rails so that the train would fall off the track at either a valley or a bridge."
In a statement, DHS press secretary Matt Chandler stressed that the message it sent out to its rail partners about a potential al Qaeda plot was "based on initial reporting, which is often misleading and inaccurate and subject to change. We remain at a heightened state of vigilance, but do not intend to issue [a National Terrorism Advisory System] alert at this time." Chandler said the Transportation Security Administration would also send a bulletin to its rail sector stakeholders.
"We have no information of any imminent terrorist threat to the U.S. rail sector, but wanted to make our partners aware of the alleged plotting," said Chandler.