A Metro Transit Authority inspection supervisor keeps watch over a station in downtown Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Metro will not say whether its crack anti-terrorism unit assisted in the arrest of Farooque Ahmed, the 34-year-old Ashburn, Va., resident who has been charged with planning to assist terrorist attacks. Ahmed assisted operatives he believed to be members of al-Qaida in a plot to bomb multiple Metrorail stations in the District.
According to his indictment, Ahmed recorded videotaped surveillance at the Arlington Cemetery, Courthouse, Pentagon City and Crystal City Metrorail stations, identifying the times and locations for staging the most devastating attacks.
Changes implemented by Metro this year to address terrorism include a new, 20-person anti-terrorism squad. (Which lacks a quippy name.) A Metro Transit Police spokesman would not say whether this anti-terror unit -- five four-person teams who deal with those tedious suspicious packages but also gather intelligence and share information with federal law enforcement agencies -- participated in today's arrest.
But Metro has prepared precisely for the sort of attack Ahmed intended to assist. In February, Metro Transit Police staged a series of drills to prepare for a Metrobus explosion, gunmen in a Metrorail station and an explosion in a Metro tunnel. That drill, part of force Blue TIDE (Terrorism Identification and Deterrence Effort), took place on February 2 from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. -- the sort of high-traffic period that Ahmed identified as the time when a terrorist attack would prove most devastating.
Metro also participates in a broader effort to prevent attacks: Operation Rail Safe, a multi-agency security "surge" whose purpose is to coordinate anti-terrorism efforts along the Northeast Corridor
The Center for Public Integrity has criticized Metro's 2010 efforts to address terrorism as late in coming -- 5 years after attacks on trains in London's Underground in 2005 and some 15 years after a sarin gas attack on Japan's subway system in 1995. Metro's anti-terrorism police team is possible due to a $9.56-million grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
During a press conference today, Metro Transit Police Department Chief Michael Taborn said that Metro Transit Police have had a point-man working with the Joint Terrorism Task Force for 10 years. He did not elaborate on the details of the arrest.
It's unclear whether any of these terrorism-prevention units helped directly in the arrest of Ahmed. Most days, riders might wish that Metro dedicated as much attention to the customer's experience as it does to suspicious packages ("If you see something, say something"). Today, Metro's safety posture may have served a purpose.