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Was Al-Qaeda Behind 2007 Metra Incident?

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Metra Electric District Train

(credit: Metra.com)

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UPDATED 05/06/11 3:50 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS/WBBM) – Information found in Osama bin Laden’s compound shows al-Qaeda was planning to target rail lines, and Metra wants to know if an attempted sabotage in 2007 was related.

CBS News reported Thursday that memos recovered from bin Laden’s lair show the al Qaeda leader was thinking big. The memos reference potential attacks against major American cities – New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Sources say the writings suggest striking on important specific dates like July 4, Sept. 11 and New Year’s.

A Homeland Security memo issued in 2010, and just obtained by the Associated Press, indicated that al-Qaeda contemplated track tampering that would derail a train at a bridge or valley.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Bob Roberts reports

An identical incident almost occurred in September 2007 on the Metra Electric District. The tracks carry passengers to the south suburbs and northwest Indiana.

Someone removed 12 spikes from a rail immediately south of the bridge over the Bishop Ford Freeway.

In that case, Metra officials said at the time, the spikes were removed from the outer track on the edge of the bridge, at 100th Place. A special crowbar-type device used to remove spikes was found in brush nearby.

A track inspector found that the spikes had been removed.

Officials said at the time that if a train had passed over the rails, it most likely would have derailed at speed, during a rush hour, and plunged onto the Bishop Ford.

Metra Vice Chairman Larry Huggins told CBS 2′s Derrick Blakley, that he wants investigators to look again, to make sure it wasn’t terrorism.

Meantime, the agency has put more security in stations and is working closely with homeland security.

” don’t know you can say you’ve done all you can do,” said Metra CEO Alex Clifford. “I just want you to know we’re very serious about doing everything we can possibly do to ensure the safety and security of our customers.”

At the time of the incident, FBI spokesman Frank Bochte called it sabotage. But Metra spokesperson Judy Pardonnet said Thursday night that officials at the commuter rail agency don’t recall the FBI ever placing blame.

“Now we can bring it to the attention of law enforcement for review, and find out, in fact, if there was a final finding in that investigation,” she said.

CBS 2 reported at the time that the FBI checked for possible connections to a domestic violence case involving a Metra engineer, and whether the incident was linked to gunshots that were fired at two Metra trains on June 6 and 8 of that year. But there was no subsequent mention of these suspected links.

Metra and CTA have both been the recipients of Homeland Security grants that have enabled them to install additional security cameras both in stations and at other critical infrastructure points on their rail systems, such as at junctions, in tunnels and around bridges.

Commuters React
WBBM 780’s Dave Berner talked with commuters Friday morning about the threat. Most commuters say they are taking any threat in stride.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Dave Berner reports

“I feel pretty safe; I mean I easily can get hit by a car,” said Amber, who rides the Burlington Northern every day.

Amber says her biggest worry is not the train line itself, but Union Station.

“I don’t feel safe in Union Station,” she said. “That’s where my fears come in, because we’re all underground.”

Amber says, though, as a train commuter, she’s not going to submit to what we’ve all been doing for generations before getting on a plane.

“I don’t want to be screened before I get in and out of the train,” she said.

Another commuter, Tony, said he’s not surprised that there might have been a terrorist plot against Metra.

“I’ve always had a little worry in the back of my head,” he said. “I’m not overly worried, but I have thought about it. I can’t say I haven’t.”

Tony wants more security on every train.

“Since 9/11, I’ve always thought that, especially after Madrid, dropping something on a train and having it go off once it enters the station – they can get on anywhere,” he said.

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