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Suspect eyed Grand Central

NYC police say sketch of station turned up in Madrid bomb case

NEW YORK -- A crude sketch of Grand Central Terminal was found in the home of a suspect in the Madrid train bombings, but it was never deemed a cause for alarm, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said yesterday.

The one-page, hand-drawn document ''was a very basic schematic," Kelly said at a news conference. ''It's not an operational plan. It's not something that would indicate an immediate threat."

Kelly was responding to a report in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo saying the drawing and other data were on a computer disk seized about two weeks after the train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people on March 11, 2004.

Spanish police turned the disk over to US agents from the FBI and CIA in December. Kelly said the data, found on the disk of a laptop computer, was also shared with the New York Police Department's counterterrorism division and city transit officials, who concluded the sketch depicted Grand Central.

The evidence also included photographs, and another drawing of a private building in the city, which Kelly refused to identify. But an analysis found no indication of a terrorism plot, and authorities quickly decided there was no need to alert the public, he said.

''We didn't see it as a threatening piece of information," he said.

Yesterday, at Grand Central, visible security was at its usual high level, with National Guard, machine-gun-toting law enforcers, and bomb-sniffing dogs.

''I'm used to this," said Elaine Weaver, a tourist from Bristol, England, who was passing through the station. ''We're used to bomb scares everywhere. So you're careful but it doesn't deter me."

The NYPD's intelligence division studied the bombings in Madrid, which killed 190 people, as a possible template for a New York attack. The department responded by tightening security in the subways and at commuter train stations -- measures that were in place long before the city received word of the Grand Central sketch.

''This is not something I think people should be panicked about or worried about," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a radio interview yesterday. ''We took the appropriate steps and we do not think that in that particular case there was a real plan to attack Grand Central."

There were conflicting descriptions of what the drawing showed: A Spanish police official said it depicted a facade similar to that of Grand Central; Kelly said it showed only the building's interior.

The same Spanish police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the sketch was found in the home of Mouhannad Almallah, a Syrian who was arrested in Madrid last March. He was later released, but is still considered a suspect.

Almallah was questioned over his alleged ties to two suspects jailed in connection with the attack after witnesses placed them aboard trains targeted in the string of 10 bombs, El Mundo said.

A total of 24 people are in jail over the Madrid attack, and at least 40 more who were arrested and released are still considered suspects.

Three other accused Islamic militants have been indicted here on charges of using Spain as a staging ground for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They are expected to go on trial next month, along with 21 other men accused of belonging to Al Qaeda.

One of the three, Ghasoub al Abrash Ghayoun, a Syrian, had traveled to the United States in 1997 and took video footage of the Twin Towers, the Golden Gate Bridge, and other landmarks, and passed the video on to Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, Spanish judges and prosecutors say. These officials say the video was too detailed to have been simply for tourism.

After the Madrid terrorism, security around New York City's subways and commuter points, such as Grand Central and Penn Station, was ratcheted above the already high levels in place since Sept. 11, 2001.

At the time, Peter Kalikow, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, inspected transit points, including Grand Central, which he said was ''analogous to the Madrid one -- trains over subways."

Kalikow said then that the chance of a transit attack in New York is ''diminished, but possible." He added that if an emergency occurred, ''100 guys would show up right away." He refused to disclose exact numbers.

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