Was the threat to New York commuters real?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 8 2006 4:38 AM

Terror in the Tunnels?

The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Timeslead with a terrorist plot to bomb commuter train tunnels connecting Manhattan to New Jersey, a scoop first reported Friday by the New York Daily News. The New York Times devotes its off-lead to the story. The attack, still in its planning stages, was foiled by the FBI, which began tracking the conspirators last summer. In April, Lebanese authorities assisting the United States arrested the leader of the would-be bombers, who allegedly swore an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden. The NYT leads with the finding by the No. 2 commander in Iraq that two Marine officers failed to investigate properly the killing of 24 civilians in Haditha last November. The paper notes that, if punished, the two would be the most senior officers disciplined since the start of the Iraq war. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox (online at least) with President Bush's ongoing push for immigration reform. Despite speculation to the contrary, the president is not abandoning his guest-worker proposal that has proved unpopular with many Republicans.

In general, the papers seem confused how to play the tunnel bombing story, given that the FBI's breakup of a Miami "terror cell" last month appears to have been overhyped. The NYT throws the most cold water on the plot's significance, quoting security officials who question whether there was any substance behind Internet chat-room bravado. The LAT picks up on a potentially significant discrepancy in official accounts: While sources told the NYT that none of the plotters had ever entered the United States, a Lebanese TV station reported that ringleader Assem Hammoud had visited several times. An FBI official later confirmed to the LAT that Hammoud had indeed entered the country at least once. The Post places the plot in context, noting that no matter how far along it was, it combined several worrying terrorism trends, such as online planning and a focus on transit systems.

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The Post's off-lead is the major scoop that President Bush plans to reverse long-standing U.S. policy and enter into a civilian nuclear pact with Russia. The move is a potential windfall for Russia, which has been trying to get into the business of storing spent nuclear fuel. Bush himself has opposed such a deal in the past, citing Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran. But while the president's concerns appear to have been addressed, the Post reports that any agreement likely will generate anger across the political spectrum.

The LAT's off-lead checks in on the latest developments in the Mexican election standoff. Despite official results declaring conservative Felipe Calderón the winner, leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador still hopes to capture the presidency. He is asking for a recount of nearly half that nation's ballots while also charging that President Vicente Fox unfairly influenced the election for Calderón, a member of his own National Action Party. The second complaint lays the groundwork for a request that Mexico's electoral commission throw out the results, a step it has taken with gubernatorial elections in the past. The WSJ notices waning support for López Obrador and writes that rallies on his behalf today offer a key opportunity to measure his political strength.

Government prosecutors are claiming that detainees at Guantanamo coordinated last month's suicides via confidential lawyer-client documents, the Post reports. Lawyers for the detainees counter that the government is merely trying to complicate their efforts to mount a robust defense.

The LAT fronts a thoughtful report on Saddam Hussein's lawyer, Boushra Khalil. Lebanese and Shiite, she is not a natural supporter of the former Iraqi dictator. But Khalil and other lawyers for Hussein have succeeded in turning the trial—in the mind of much of the Arab public anyway—into a debate about America's invasion of Iraq.

A detail-rich piece in the Post tracks hopeful immigrants south of the border, on the long journey through Mexico from Central America to the United States. While the dangers of the U.S.-Mexican border are well-known, bandits and other challenges in Mexico itself can be even more threatening.

The WSJ examines a profound shift in the super-rich's approach to philanthropy. Rather than establish foundations that perpetuate their legacy, today's donors are giving their money away while they're still alive to oversee how it's spent.

The NYT fronts a light Saturday piece on the Internet's role as a lifeline between troops deployed overseas and their families back home. The LAT splashes its own Iraq human interest story across the top of its page. The paper reports on the special connection between a Marine killed in Iraq last month and baseball's Angels.

Alexander Dryer works for The New Yorker in Washington, D.C.

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