Assem Hammoud, the Lebanese college teacher arrested for allegedly plotting with others to bomb underwater tunnels leading from Manhattan into New Jersey, was thought by his students to be a “drug addict.” He had many girlfriends, drank alcohol, and, according to Lebanese judicial sources quoted by the Beirut newspaper Al-Safir, “pursued a very complex social lifestyle.” All this, investigators are now saying, was part of a systematic effort to mislead those around him, since Hammoud, according to FBI Assistant Director Mark Mershon, “acknowledged pledging a bayat or allegiance to Osama Bin Laden, and he proclaims himself to be a member of Al-Qaeda.”
According to American officials, the FBI uncovered the alleged plot in the summer of 2005, by monitoring email traffic and chat-room postings on Islamist websites. Hammoud, who taught business ethics and human resources at a university in Lebanon, was identified as the group’s leader by the FBI, which then asked the Lebanese to track him. He was purportedly arrested in Beirut on April 27, according to the officials, though the announcement of his detention only came last week, when the New York Daily News broke the story.
Hammoud, who used the name “Amir Andalousi” (an Andalusian prince) on the Internet, was said to have told investigators he intended to conduct the attacks in October or November. He was apparently arrested two days before leaving on a four-month trip to Pakistan to train for the operation. The Lebanese also said he had been given light-weapons training with a Palestinian man in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon.
According to Al-Safir, other plotters were also recently arrested, including a Syrian seized in Libya, and a third man in Canada (though some reports said he was released for lack of evidence). The newspaper also affirmed, without citing a source, that other suspects were being sought out in the United Arab Emirates, Bosnia, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Iran