FBI Taps Public to ID Suspicious Ferry Riders
Passengers Reported the Pair's Unusual Behavior Aboard Puget Sound Boats
By DAVID SCHOETZ
Aug. 22, 2007
FBI agents in Seattle have asked the public to help identify two men spotted behaving in an "unusual" manner during several trips on the nation's largest ferry system.
Federal officials released a pair of photos of the men to the public Monday after they were shown to employees of the ferry system. The two men appear to be of Middle Eastern descent and are seen standing against the rail of a Washington State Ferries system vessel.
FBI field agents told ABC News' Seattle affiliate KOMO-TV that the two men were observed on ferries and seemed unusually interested in how the boats worked and docking procedures. They were seen on multiple ferry runs over a period of four to six weeks and ultimately photographed by a ferry employee.
It was the Washington Joint Analytical Center, established in 2003 as a clearing house for terror-related tips in Washington, that pieced together reports about the men from several daily ferry commuters over several weeks.
"These men have been seen aboard Washington State Ferries [vessels] on several occasions and have exhibited unusual behavior, which was reported by passengers," according to the FBI release.
Federal officials added that the behavior may be "innocuous," but that they would like to speak with the unidentified men to resolve the passenger reports and ensure the safety of the ferry system. Authorities have received more than 100 calls since releasing the photos and are now following up on various leads.
The FBI insisted that the men are not being sought because of their apparent race, but are wanted because their actions caught the attention of fellow ferry riders.
"We're looking at the behavior," FBI spokeswoman Robbie Burroughs told KOMO-TV. "If you'd like to say we're profiling particular behavior, I'd be comfortable with that, because this is behavior people felt uncomfortable with."
In April 2006, the Washington State Ferries system was ranked among the nation's most sought-after targets for maritime terrorism by a Justice Department inspector general.
At the time, federal officials cited an increase in reports of suspicious behavior as a driving factor for the assessment's findings.
Meanwhile, during this morning's commute, the Washington State Patrol responded to a report of a suspicious package inside the bathroom of a ferry docked in Seattle, police spokesman Sgt. Craig Johnson confirmed to ABC News.
The item was discovered behind a toilet after the 460-foot Puyallup docked and was emptied of cars and passengers. Bomb-sniffing dogs and a technician responded and cleared the vessel to return to service, Johnson said.
Johnson, who said his department had bulked up its ferry security role significantly since Sept. 11, did not believe the FBI's call for help from the public triggered this morning's suspicious package incident.
"The item would have been discovered and we would have investigated anyway," Johnson said.
The Washington State Ferries system is the largest in the United States, with 10 routes and 20 terminals that serve eight counties in Washington state and British Columbia, Canada. Last year, the system's 28 ferries carried roughly 24 million passengers and more than 10 million vehicles aboard Puget Sound routes.