Phone threat closes tunnels, snarls traffic in Baltimore, Maryland

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A phone threat by a person who claimed to have information from overseas led state highway officials to disrupt traffic for 2 hours on Tuesday through both harbor tunnels in Baltimore, Maryland. All north and southbound traffic of the Harbor Tunnel, and all but two lanes of the Fort McHenry Tunnel were stopped before noontime as a precaution, causing traffic backups.

While authorities are unsure of the credibility of the threat, the Maryland Transportaion Authority made the closure with the urging of the FBI. Dump trucks were used to block tube entrances and assistance of 80 police were on hand to direct motorists to detours. There were no heavy traffic delays reported on the beltway, the city's alternate route.

Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich held an afternoon news conference and described a combined effort at federal, state and local levels that were two weeks in planning. The tunnel closures were directed from a command post set up yesterday.

FBI special agent in charge of the operation, Kevin Perkins, said the information they gathered "... was somewhat specific as to the date and time" of the threat, and that authorities were exercising "an abundance of caution" in reacting to it.

There are reports of 4 arrests being made in connection with immigration charges stemming from the investigation. According to a CBS News correspondent Bob Orr, advance information of the threat came from an Egyptian being held in the Netherlands who told U.S. officials of a plot involving a vehicle bomb. Nearly 30 people of Egyptian heritage have been questioned by the FBI through the city.

The investigation seems to have centered on a small market in southeast Baltimore when the threat first immerged. Authorities believe the plot was to drive "explosives-laden vehicles" into the tunnel, although which one of the tunnels remained unspecific.

The recent telephoned threat was believed highly questionable because it came from a person who "offered the information in an attempt to gain favor to get out of some trouble in a related way," the correspondent Orr said. There is so far no direct evidence to verify the threat was real.