TRENTON, N.J. – A senior al-Qaida operative lived in New Jersey and posed as a student while conducting surveillance of financial institutions as possible targets for a terror attack, according to a published report.
The operative, identified by U.S. officials in Washington as Dhiren Barot, 32, entered the United States on a student visa, The Record of Bergen County reported.
Joseph Billy Jr., the FBI's top agent in New Jersey, told the newspaper that the operative attended several institutions of higher learning in New Jersey while carrying out the reconnaissance operation. Billy did not identify the schools. Barot is known to have used several aliases.
Authorities believe Barot was dispatched by Osama bin Laden to conduct the scouting mission in New Jersey, the newspaper reported. Barot was arrested by British authorities in August and remains in custody there.
The British say Barot had reconnaissance reports for the Prudential building in Newark, the New York Stock Exchange and the Citigroup building in Manhattan, and the International Monetary Fund headquarters in Washington.
Discovery of those surveys led U.S. Homeland Security officials to declare an orange alert in early August and prompted heightened security measures at the buildings. Authorities later concluded that the buildings were not under imminent threat of attack.
Use limos instead
The Record, citing "an official familiar with the matter," said the al-Qaida survey on the Prudential building contained minutely detailed information, including an observation that a van carrying explosives probably would not fit into its underground parking garage. The report recommended using limousines instead.
It also contained a listing of potential getaway routes to be used after an attack. One notation said using the PATH commuter rail system was an option, but cautioned that exact fare should be carried for use at its automatic turnstiles to speed a getaway, the unnamed official said.
U.S. counterterrorism officials believe Barot authored the reports, which were written in fluent English. They describe surveillance operations during 2000 and 2001.
The documents were discovered on computers, discs and in e-mail messages during a raid in Pakistan in July.
Barot and seven others arrested with him are charged in Britain with conspiring to commit murder and using radioactive materials, toxic gases, chemicals or explosives to cause "fear or injury."