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Officials: No evidence of NY plot

Grand Central Station in New York
Baltasar Garzon
Justice and Rights
New York

NEW YORK (CNN) -- U.S. officials are playing down a Spanish newspaper report that Spanish authorities had uncovered a terrorist plot to attack New York's Grand Central Station.

The El Mundo, one of Spain's largest circulation newspapers, reported that Spanish authorities uncovered evidence of the plot -- a rough sketch of the train station -- during their investigation of the deadly March 11, 2004, bombings in four Madrid train stations.

"We have no information to indicate that these drawings were part of an operational plan to attack Grand Central station," New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters.

Kelly said the sketch, which he described as "amateur renderings of the interior," did not appear to have been done from actual surveillance of the facility.

"I wouldn't say this is cause for alarm," said Kelly, adding that he thought it "wasn't appropriate" for information about the sketch to have been released.

"I don't think we should be surprised by this type of information," he said, The terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, were a "wake-up call," he said, but "I can't characterize this as a threat."

The commissioner said that New York made some security changes at Grand Central and Penn stations after the Madrid bombings but nothing in the sketch "has caused us to make changes in our security plans or procedures."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told WBLS-FM radio that the city had known about the sketch "for a long time," and Kelly said the FBI gave it to New York authorities in November.

Mercedes Padilla, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, said the authority had known about the information "for several months, and we do everything humanly possible to ensure the safety of our customers, employees, and infrastructure."

Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said federal officials turned over the information to local authorities out of an abundance of caution.

An FBI official said the information was "interesting to us," but questioned what it meant.

"It is without context," the official said. "Is it for certain Grand Central station? Who drew it? It appears at first to be suspicious, but it may not be. We all know that New York is a terrorist target. This appears to be just another piece of the giant puzzle."

Even Spanish authorities dismissed the El Mundo report. One police source in Madrid told CNN the report was "not relevant" and appeared to have several inaccuracies -- and it wasn't even clear to whom the drawing belonged.

"A piece of paper turned up in the raid last March 24," the police source told CNN. "You can't say for sure the drawing was of Grand Central station. Some think it might look somewhat like the entrance."

"The Spanish police do not consider it relevant," the source said.

The potentially frightening news about Grand Central Terminal came two days after U.S. officials said they had intercepted "credible non-specific" communications from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden urging Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to attack targets outside Iraq.

But one official admitted the communications were "vague" and "not unique," with another noting that it did not mention the United States and another intimating it might not be bin Laden at all.

El Mundo appeared to draw its conclusion about a plot against Grand Central because police turned up the sketch and computer data during a search of a Madrid apartment where a suspect in the bombings lived.

The suspect was the brother of the apartment's owner, a suspected al Qaeda operative who is reportedly a fugitive, El Mundo said. CNN has confirmed that that the brother has been charged in the Madrid bombing case but is currently out of jail.

The fugitive also owned a home in Toledo province, south of Madrid, where two other Madrid train bombing suspects lived. Those two have been charged in the train bombing, CNN has confirmed, and remain in jail.

The Spanish police source told CNN that "you could not say" that the three Madrid train bombing suspects were planning an attack on Grand Center Station, based on the evidence at hand.

The paper reported, toward the bottom of its story, that Spanish police weren't sure who had made the drawing or compiled the computer information.

The conservative El Mundo backed the government of former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, which lost a national election days after the March 11 train bombings in Madrid -- and after the government pushed the theory that the Basque separatist group ETA was responsible even as evidence began to surface discounting that connection.

Aznar's government was also a supporter of the Iraq invasion; his successor, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, pulled Spain's troops from the U.S.-led coalition there.

-- CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman, Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve and Justice Department Producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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