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Officials: Al-Qaida weighed train attack

WASHINGTON -- Some of the first information gleaned from Osama bin Laden's compound indicates al-Qaida considered attacking U.S. trains on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, but counterterrorism officials say they believe the plot was only aspirational and have no recent intelligence about any active plan for such an attack.

As of February 2010, the terror organization was considering tampering with an unspecified U.S. rail track so that a train would fall off the track at a valley or a bridge, according to a Homeland Security intelligence warning sent to law enforcement officials around the country Thursday. The warning was obtained by The Associated Press and marked for "official use only."

This information appears to be the first widely circulated intelligence pulled from the raid this week on bin Laden's secret compound in Pakistan. After killing the terror leader and four of his associates, Navy SEALs confiscated a treasure trove of computers, DVDs and documents from the home where he had been hiding for six years.

Intelligence analysts have been reviewing and translating the material, looking for information about pending plots and other terror connections.

"We want to stress that this alleged al-Qaida plotting is based on initial reporting, which is often misleading or inaccurate and subject to change," Homeland spokesman Matt Chandler said. The government has no plans to issue an official terror alert, he said.

"While it is clear there was some level of planning, we have no recent information to indicate an active ongoing plot to target transportation and no information on possible locations or specific targets," the warning said.

U.S. officials have disrupted other terror plans that targeted rails, including the 2009 plot to blow up the New York City subway system.

On Monday, the FBI and Homeland Security warned law enforcement around the country that bin Laden's death could inspire retaliatory attacks in the United States. They said the transportation sector -- including U.S. rails -- remain attractive targets.

In other developments Thursday:

A senior defense official said only one of the five people killed in the raid that got bin Laden was armed and fired any shots. The official acknowledged the new account differs greatly from original administration portrayals of a chaotic, intense and prolonged firefight.

The sole shooter in the al-Qaida leader's Pakistani compound was quickly killed in the early minutes of the commando operation, before the team of Navy SEALs swept through the house and shot the others, the official said. The details have become clearer now that the assault team has been debriefed, the official said.

Aviation experts said a helicopter used in the assault appeared to be a stealthier, top secret and never-before-seen version of a routinely used special ops helicopter. The helicopter made a hard landing and was destroyed with explosives by the military team at the site, leaving behind wreckage for experts to analyze.

Widely published photos of the remains of the MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter show it had been modified to make it harder to detect with radar, said Richard Aboulafia, aviation expert with the Teal Group consultants said.

"It's pretty clear it was meant to penetrate Pakistani airspace," he said.

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