Four Charged in Drug-For-Weapons Deal
W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 6 — U.S. agents arrested four people in a drugs-for-weapons investigation, charging them with plotting to deliver $25 million worth of weapons to a Colombian terrorist group, Attorney General John Ashcroft said today.
Undercover agents secretly videotaped meetings in London, the Virgin Islands and Panama City at which the defendants allegedly discussed exchanging drugs for weapons that would be sent to the Colombian United Self Defense Forces, known as the AUC.
The four were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, charges that could carry up to life in prison, Ashcroft said.
"The war on terrorism has been joined with the war on illegal drug use," Ashcroft said.
He added that, because of the investigation by the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency, "narco-terrorists from South America to Southeast Asia are less able to threaten American lives and American security."
In a separate case that Ashcroft described Wednesday, three men are fighting extradition from Hong Kong to face charges stemming from an alleged scheme to use profits from illicit drug sales to finance the purchase of Stinger missiles for the al Qaeda terror network. The three men — two Pakistanis and one U.S. citizen originally from India — allegedly sought to sell a half-ton of heroin and five tons of hashish in the San Diego area and use the money to buy four Stinger missiles, authorities say.
The three suspects in custody in Hong Kong were identified as Syed Mustajab Shah and Muhammed Abid Afridi, both of Pakistan, and naturalized U.S. citizen Ilyas Ali.
They were arrested Sept. 20 and appeared in a Hong Kong court on Tuesday to fight extradition to the United States. Hong Kong, a former British colony now under Chinese rule, has an extradition treaty with the United States.
The Stinger is a shoulder — fired, American-made weapon effective in attacking low-flying aircraft.
There appeared initially to be no evidence that the men had any connection to the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Three of the Sept. 11 hijackers lived or visited the San Diego area.
U.S. officials have long believed that drug sales, particularly heroin and opium from Afghanistan's huge poppy fields, at least indirectly helped al Qaeda and other terror groups.
During a recent visit to Asia, Ashcroft praised Hong Kong for helping cut off terrorist financing and met with local officials about finding new ways to cooperate in the anti-terror war.
— The Associated Press
Ex-Mosque Leader Faces Terror-Related Gun Charge
S E A T T L E, Nov. 6 — A former mosque leader has been arrested on charges that he illegally bought a semiautomatic handgun for a Tacoma man described as having al Qaeda connections.
Abdul Raheem Al Arshad Ali, 31, formerly known as Andre Anderson, was dressed all in black during a brief appearance in U.S. District Court following his arrest Tuesday.
U.S. Magistrate Ricardo Martinez released Ali on a temporary appearance bond pending an interview with U.S. Pretrial Services personnel who may suggest conditions for detention or continued release pending trial. His next hearing was set for Nov. 22.
Ali is the third man linked to the now-defunct Dar-us-Salaam Mosque in the Central District to face federal charges in recent months.
The other two, Semi Osman of Tacoma and James Ujaama of Seattle, who is accused of being a terrorist conspirator, have been accused of involvement in a plot to set up an al Qaeda terrorist training camp near Bly, Ore.
According to a complaint filed by an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Ali bought a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol at Federal Way Discount Guns in the suburbs between Tacoma and Seattle, for Osman, 32, who is not a U.S. citizen and is barred from possessing a firearm, on Sept. 24, 1999.
If Ali is convicted of lying to the gun dealer about who was actually buying the weapon, he could face as much as five years in prison.
Police found the weapon with the serial number obliterated — also a federal offense — in a search of Osman's apartment in Tacoma in May.
According to documents filed in court, Osman told an FBI agent he asked Ali to buy him a gun and handed him about $300 as the two were parked outside the store.
Ali went into the store, returned and gave Osman a box containing the gun, the agent wrote.
At Ali's suggestion, Osman scratched out the serial number to make it harder to trace, but scientists at the ATF laboratory in Walnut Creek, Calif., were able to raise the number, according to the complaint.
Osman pleaded guilty in August to possessing the pistol and faces sentencing Jan. 10.
Assistant U.S. attorney Andrew R. Hamilton, Osman's defense lawyer, Robert Leen, and Ali's temporary counsel, Thomas Hillier, would not comment on the latest Tuesday.
Osman and Ali apparently were both leaders at the now-closed mosque in Seattle.
According to a document from an unrelated King County Superior Court case, Ali described himself as "Program Director (Imam)" of Dar ul Islam Masjid, believed to be a different name for the Dar-us-Salaam Mosque where James Ujaama sometimes prayed.
Ujaama, 36, formerly of Seattle, has been charged with providing material support to al Qaeda at the direction of Abu Hamza al-Masri, a London cleric who was said to be planning a training camp in Oregon.
Ali, a former Marine and Gulf War veteran with a wife and three children, moved to Seattle in 1992 and has worked as a mall security guard, cab driver and bricklayer.
He said in a recent Seattle Post-Intelligencer interview that he and others from Seattle went to the ranch near Bly but not for terrorism.
"We did nothing that any other group of white boys wouldn't do. We shot targets and rode horses and that's it," Ali said. "Since we were black and Muslims and young, they figured we were doing something criminal."
— The Associated Press
Pilotless Plane Becomes Potent Anti-Terror Weapon
W A S H I N G TO N, Nov. 6 — With the killing of six al Qaeda suspects in Yemen by a missile fired from a pilotless Predator spy plane, the CIA's combat participation in the war on terrorism has expanded beyond Afghanistan.
The Predator has become a deadly tool and powerful psychological weapon that seemingly comes from nowhere to deliver a fiery strike.
"It's a demonstration that al Qaeda can run, but they can't hide," said Daniel Mulvenna, a terrorism expert at the Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies outside Washington. "Eventually the technological reach of the U.S. intelligence community is going to produce these opportunities."
Missiles fired from lurking Predators have killed Osama bin Laden's operations chief and threatened an Afghan warlord. The deadly drones give the CIA a way to track and kill suspected terrorists without putting U.S. pilots at risk, admittedly with the possibility of unintended civilian casualties.
The Yemen strike killed Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, al Qaeda's chief operative in Yemen and a suspect in the October 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors, U.S. officials said. Five other people, also believed to be al Qaeda operatives, were riding in al-Harethi's car and died in the attack.
The attack provoked criticism of U.S. tactics in the broadening terror war.
Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh called the strike "a summary execution that violates human rights."
"Even terrorists must be treated according to international law. Otherwise, any country can start executing those whom they consider terrorists," she said.
The airstrike on al-Harethi's car was reminiscent of Israeli airstrikes that target vehicles of suspected members of the radical Islamic groups. The U.S. government has criticized that practice, most recently on Tuesday.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher deflected questions on the attack in Yemen, but said U.S. opposition remains to "targeted killings" of Palestinians by Israel.
"If you look back at what we have said about targeted killings in the Israeli-Palestinian context, you will find that the reasons we have given do not necessarily apply in other circumstances," Boucher said.
The White House defended the Yemen operation.
"Sometimes the best course is a good offense," presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday. "The president has made clear that we fight the war on terrorism wherever we need. Terrorists don't recognize any borders or nations."
The use of the armed Predator apparently was the first outside Afghanistan, where CIA-operated drones have fired at least four times. One of those attacks, a November operation that also included strikes by U.S. military aircraft, killed al Qaeda military head Mohammed Atef.
The United States developed the Predator after the 1991 Persian Gulf war to give military commanders views of the battlefield without having to put pilots there.
First used in 1995, the remote-controlled spy plane can lurk in an area for up to 16 hours, unseen and unheard at 15,000 feet, its cameras transmitting live video, infrared or radar pictures to military commanders or intelligence officials anywhere in the world. The video is sharp enough to be able to spot a person from five miles away, officials say.
The CIA was the first to fly Predators modified to carry one Hellfire missile under each wing. Originally built as anti-tank weapons for Army helicopters, the 125-pound Hellfires streak through the air faster than the speed of sound to deliver about 17 pounds of high explosives.
The Bush administration has ordered an additional 22 of the aircraft and their associated ground stations at a cost of about $160 million. The Air Force already has about four dozen of them and the CIA has an undisclosed number.
The Predator has its limits. Like other small planes, it can't fly in harsh weather like snow or fog, and its video would be largely useless in those conditions anyway.
The plane also can be difficult to fly and is vulnerable to enemy anti-aircraft fire. At least nine Air Force Predators and one CIA drone have crashed during missions involving Afghanistan or Iraq since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
— The Associated Press
Feds Charge 29 Aiport Workers With Lying on Forms
P H I L A D E L P H I A, Nov. 6 — A federal grand jury has indicted 29 current or former workers at Philadelphia International Airport on charges they lied about their criminal histories or gave false Social Security numbers when they applied for security badges, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, federal authorities examined the records of nearly 15,000 people employed at the airport to ensure that workers with access to secure areas were properly documented and hadn't been convicted of serious crimes.
The inspection found 17 workers who didn't disclose convictions for crimes including weapons offenses, drug possession and theft, prosecutors said. Most would have been disqualified from getting airport jobs if they had answered truthfully, authorities said.
One of the men arrested, 29-year-old baggage handler Kyann A. Lewis, of Philadelphia, had two guns in his home that belonged to a pair of law enforcement officers who reported the weapons stolen from bags that had been checked through the airport, prosecutors said.
In addition, 12 food service employees were charged with using false Social Security number on their applications for airport security badges, prosecutors said.
"Public safety is our goal and priority, and the public has the right to expect that those who have access to secure areas of the airport have not been granted that access under false pretenses," said U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan.
Twelve of those indicted were arrested Tuesday. Lewis was taken into custody last week. The remaining defendants are still at large, prosecutors said.
Almost all those indicted worked for private companies doing business at the airport, and were employed in a variety of jobs, including as maintenance men, skycaps and in food service. None of those indicted were believed to have ties to terrorist groups, authorities said.
The Federal Aviation Administration a year ago ordered background checks of an estimated 750,000 airport and airline employees who could enter secured areas of airports.
So far the checks have resulted in dozens of arrests, most for lying on job applications, use of false Social Security numbers or immigration violations.
At Philadelphia International, investigators also allegedly found illegal aliens and workers who were fugitives with pending criminal charges. Those cases will be turned over to other law enforcement agencies, Meehan's office said.
The indictments were unrelated to two previous investigations at the airport involving workers who allegedly concealed their criminal histories.
In June, a manager at the private security firm Huntleigh USA pleaded guilty to lying to aviation officials about having conducted background checks on new hires. Among those hired without the mandated check were people who had been convicted of murder, drug trafficking and robbery, prosecutors said.
Another private security firm at Philadelphia International, Argenbright Security Inc., also was accused of hiring screeners with criminal convictions. It has since lost its contract to work at the airport.
— The Associated Press
Firefighters Arrested in Ground Zero Protest Sue
N E W Y O R K, Nov. 6 — Eight firefighters who were arrested in a
protest last year over Ground Zero recovery efforts have sued the
city and the New York Police Department.
The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday stems from an angry
confrontation on Nov. 2, 2001, between firefighters and police
officers assigned to patrol the area around the World Trade Center
site. The firefighters were upset that the number of firefighters
working to recover victims was being reduced.
More than a dozen firefighters were arrested in the protest for
charges including criminal trespass and riot, although the charges
were eventually dropped. The lawsuit filed by the eight alleges
that police officers violated their rights and arrested them
without cause. It seeks unspecified damages.
Police spokesman officer John Sullivan said the department does
not comment on pending litigation, and city corporation counsel
spokeswoman Kate O'Brien Ahlers said her office had not yet seen
Citing safety concerns, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had sought
to limit the number of firefighters working at Ground Zero to 25,
angering rank-and-file men traumatized by the loss of 343
colleagues in the Sept. 11 attacks. The city later backed down and
increased the number.
— The Associated Press