Is South Florida a Terrorist Hot Spot?

Is South Florida a Terrorist Hot Spot?

F O R T L A U D E R D A L E , Fla., June 24 — Jose Padilla, accused of conspiring to explode a "dirty bomb" in the United States, worked at a suburban Taco Bell and discovered Islam here.

Two young Pakistani immigrants from nearby Hollywood allegedly hatched a plan to attack South Florida power plants and a National Guard Armory.

And several of the Sept. 11 hijackers roamed the area's libraries, gyms and beachfront motels.

They all made their home — at least temporarily — in South Florida's Broward County, leading some to wonder if this growing suburban and tourist area north of Miami has become a common destination for would-be terrorists.

"If you want to have access to all kinds of things that might appeal to someone who is here for the wrong purposes and want to be able to have a certain level of anonymity, this is certainly the place to be," said Edward Mandt, dean of the Institute of Public Safety at Broward Community College.

With miles of strip malls, about 7.5 million tourists visiting every year and a growing degree of diversity, many say Broward County, and all of South Florida, is an ideal place to keep a low profile.

"It's a melting pot. It's not like in Montana where you would stick out like a sore thumb," said Ben Graber, a Broward County commissioner. "Here you just blend in with the population."

Consider the past nine months:

At least seven of the 19 men who crashed hijacked planes on Sept. 11 had spent time in the county. Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi went to a Hollywood bar the week before the attacks and played video golf. Seven others lived nearby in Palm Beach County's Delray Beach.

Pakistani immigrants Imran Mandhai, 19, and Shueyb Mossa Jokhan, 24, of Hollywood were accused this spring of conspiring to bomb electrical transformers and the Israeli Consulate in Miami.

Safraz Jehaludi, a 21-year old computer technician from Miramar, is being held on charges he sent the FBI anonymous e-mail messages threatening to blow up the White House and a Florida power plant. Broward County's latest connection to alleged terrorism has surfaced mostly strongly with Padilla, who spent about a year in the county jail and lived in the county for much of the 1990s.

While federal law enforcement officials have questioned whether Padilla became an extremist during his stay in Florida, investigators have sought out those who worshipped at mosques with the young man known then as "Ibrahim."

Adham Hassoun, 40, was arrested on an immigration violation earlier this month by members of the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force. Two newspapers reported that Hassoun and Padilla were acquaintances at Masjid Al-Iman, a Fort Lauderdale mosque.

The cases have cast additional scrutiny on South Florida's burgeoning Muslim community. Recent census figures do not list Muslims, but the number of Broward County residents listing their ethnicity as Arab increased 70 percent during the decade to nearly 11,000.

Following a meeting Wednesday, Muslim leaders condemned the wave of detainments of Muslim and Arab men nationwide as part of the terrorism investigation and said Muslims are being unfairly targeted in South Florida.

"The community is getting the feeling that there is free speech and the First Amendment in this county, but it doesn't apply if you're Muslim or Arab," said Khurrum Wahid, civil rights director for the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Rafiq Mahdi, the prayer leader of Masjid Al-Iman, said the cases here have raised concern among the 250 to 300 worshippers who gather every Friday night at the suburban mosque.

"We don't mind the scrutiny. We do want it to be carried out with a degree of recognition of our civil rights as individuals," Mahdi said. He said Muslims want security concerns to be handled "with a zeal and not a bias."

Observers say the county's growth and diversity have added a layer of anonymity for potential wrongdoers. Recent census figures show Broward County's population grew nearly 30 percent during the past decade to more than 1.6 million.

Others point to the proximity to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and the Port of Miami, two of the state's busiest ports, and the region's airports and flight schools.

"There's not that much feeling that you need to say 'Who is this?' because it's just accepted that it's a transient society down here," said William Marina, a Florida Atlantic University historian.

The post-Sept. 11 world has led the Broward County sheriff's office to work more closely with federal law enforcement to share information and training. "Now we're all shifting gears together to pay more attention to terrorism issues," spokeswoman Cheryl Stopnick said.

—The Associated Press

Frustration Mounts in Terror War

W A S H I N G T O N, June 24 — Everyone in Washington agrees the war on terrorism is much bigger than Osama bin Laden. Everyone is sure his al Qaeda group will carry on even if he is never seen again.

But they want him — and now.

Frustration over the missing man behind the Sept. 11 attacks spilled out Sunday when members of Congress sized up the threat his network still poses to America regardless of whether he is dead or alive.

"If he's alive," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., "I'd like him to stick his head up and let us get a good look at him. And then I'd take it off."

"In a heartbeat," agreed Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. There was a hint of frustration, too, over other unfinished business from the fall, the anthrax investigation.

Lawmakers echoed Bush administration officials in pleading for patience, saying the case is scientifically complex.

But Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said authorities are spending too much time reorganizing themselves into an anti-terrorism bureaucracy and not enough on the bottom line: crushing al Qaeda and finding out who spread the deadly anthrax germs at home.

"I have to say we just need a renewed effort to keep our eye on both of these things," she said on the talk show circuit. "That anthrax killer is out there. We need to nab this person."

The open pining for more results in the anti-terror war was stimulated in part by an audio interview made public over the weekend in which bin Laden spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith said the al Qaeda leader and most top lieutenants are alive, well and ready to attack again.

"Lot of bravado there," said Boxer, noting bin Laden did not look well at all when last seen on video.

But Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, put some stock in the claims.

"It's not surprising that there is a statement that bin Laden is still alive," he said on Fox News Sunday. "That's the best assessment of U.S. intelligence." A White House official found nothing surprising in the statement, either Graham said bin Laden might be somewhere in Pakistan's western tribal lands.

Whatever its boss' fate, al Qaeda appears to be regenerating, Graham said, and even the Hamburg, Germany, cell believed central to the Sept. 11 attacks has been showing signs of life.

"What we have seen is a disturbing pattern of the reformulation of al Qaeda and their renewed willingness and capability to conduct terrorist attacks," he said.

Added Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the intelligence panel's top Republican: "They could hit us any day."

Administration officials have pointed to numerous indications of al Qaeda activity but question whether the network still has the command structure or communications to plan something from the top.

They believe mid-level operatives are having to do their own hasty planning with whatever tools they can muster, and the result could be more frequent but less sophisticated attacks than before.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration viewed Ghaith's taped remarks as no surprise, but wouldn't discuss whether bin Laden is alive or whether a new attack is likely.

Lawmakers said al Qaeda does not need bin Laden in order to go on.

"This snake can crawl without its head and we need to be aware of that," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, told CNN's Late Edition.

He cautioned everyone to be especially careful on Independence Day because of its symbolic value as a terrorist target.

The congressional leaders offered no evidence of an impending attack other than the uncorroborated warnings issued lately, including one that al Qaeda could use fuel tanker trucks against Jewish targets in the United States.

Graham said al Qaeda appears to be more capable of attacking Americans than it was a month or two ago.

With all the foreboding from Washington, and the desire to track down the man behind the worst terrorist attack on America, it was left to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sound a note of confidence about the progress made against both al Qaeda and the Taliban militia.

"They are a defeated force," he said. "They are on the run." And bin Laden?

"Osama bin Laden must know that, whatever acts of terror he thinks he can commit, will not remain unanswered, and that his days are anyway numbered," Karzai said.

"But he will be found one day, sooner or later. That is for sure."

—The Associated Press

Armed Civilian Patrols in Brooklyn a No Show

N E W Y O R K, June 24 — The armed groups a rabbi had said would begin patrolling two heavily Jewish Brooklyn neighborhoods in response to an FBI warning that terrorists might attack synagogues and Jewish schools did not materialize at the announced locations and time early today. Instead, a collection of people from law enforcement, the media, community leaders and curiosity seekers gathered at street corners in the Flatbush and Borough Park sections where Rabbi Yakove Lloyd had said his armed patrols would meet.

In an early-morning call to The Associated Press, Lloyd, founder of the right wing Jewish Defense Group, insisted that 25 members of the group did carry out patrols.

The police had no comment on Lloyd's claim early this morning, according to spokesman Detective Robert Price.

Overnight, police closely monitored the Brooklyn streets where the groups were expected to show up, according to Police Officer Dominick Scotto.

"They can't be standing out here with a shotgun — that's for sure," said Scotto, while on an overnight foot patrol of Flatbush early today. "If they have a baseball bat, they'd better be on their way to a game."

State Sen. Carl Kruger, who represents the Brooklyn neighborhood, said "if Rabbi Lloyd would crawl out of his hole and show himself with his phantom troops that don't exist I'd tell him that he's the real terrorist."

Lloyd said in a press conference Sunday that approximately 50 members of his group would patrol the neighborhoods from midnight to 6 a.m. on three random days of the week. He said firearms would only be carried by people who were licensed and trained in their use. Others, he said, would carry bats.

Lloyd initially conceived of the patrols in response to fugitive Abdul Rahman Yasin's assertion that those responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing had originally targeted heavily Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Yasin is sought by the FBI in the bombing, which killed six people and injured 1,000 others.

On June 16, Lloyd suspended the plan after meeting with overwhelmingly negative response from Brooklyn residents and lawmakers.

Lloyd said he renewed his plan after the FBI warned on Friday that terrorists might be plotting to use fuel tankers to carry out attacks against Jewish neighborhoods.

When Lloyd first announced his intentions two weeks ago, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said anyone carrying a gun in such a patrol would be arrested.

Lloyd claimed the next patrol would be Tuesday night.

—The Associated Press