Over the weekend The New York Post and Daily News were splashing front-page pictures of the Playboy - Professor - Tunnel bomber, Assem Hammoud, lounging shirtless in a bathing-suit on a water ski speedboat with a bevy of girlfriends.
What a wonderful tabloid story. It has all the elements: A 31 year-old Al Qaeda playboy with two girls in a happy threesome on a bed, keeping up his deep cover. Hammoud drove around Beirut in a red MG convertible and drank liquor and partied with women, all the while secretly planning to blow up NYC tunnels.
Fiendishly clever those Al Qaeda folks!
Mr. Hammoud, under some pressure from Lebanese investigators, supposedly confessed and swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden. When asked whether Hammoud was tortured, acting Interior Minister, Ahmad Fatfat said, "The subject isn't in my hands anymore, but in the hands of the judiciary," according to the Beirut Daily Star.
Being interrogated by the Lebanese Secret Police, I am sure that I would confess as well and swear allegiance to whomever they wanted.
But soon the story was questioned by CBS News correspondent Jim Stewart, who learned that the plans were mere "jihadist bravado," according to one senior official.
There was no evidence that anybody in the plot was ever in the US, that they got any monies, or that they had any bombs or materials or any connection to Al Qaeda. Moreover, Hammoud had been in custody for over three months, since his April 7th arrest. There is some speculation that the arrest at this point was intended to divert attention from or justify the recent NYT bank monitoring revelations.
The chat room jihadists were cleverly spotted more than a year ago by U.S. and Canadian intelligence agents watching an open website. The suspects communicated freely over public Internet chat rooms thinking that no one could track them. With impeccable logic, they figured that the FBI would never think that professional terrorists would openly chat about upcoming terrorist bombings.
"They don't seem to be the brightest bulbs in the terrorist lot" said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on CNN.
A senior US official labeled the plot "largely aspirational" and described the Internet conversations as mostly extremists discussing and conceptualizing the plot.
A further development emerged from government sources on Monday with a story that Hammoud visited the US......only he went to California, and it was six years ago, before he even knew about Al Qaeda. Hammoud had previously felt strongly about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Hammoud's mother, Nabila Qotob, a 58 year-old artist, insisted on her son's innocence. "He is someone who loved life.... Drinks alcohol... and has several girlfriends," arguing that he was anything but a religious fanatic, according to the Beirut Daily Star.