Officials Search for Terrorist Next Door

ByABC News
September 3, 2003, 5:25 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Sept. 8, 2003 — -- "The weather is too hot," Iyman Faris wrote in an e-mail last winter to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks. The message meant: Destroying the Brooklyn Bridge would be too difficult.

From Pakistan, Mohammed had sent Faris on a mission to scout the feasibility of bringing down the bridge by slashing its suspension cables.

The e-mail message caught the eye of CIA and FBI agents when they began examining Mohammed's computer after he was captured last March. Mohammed then fingered Faris, who, when confronted by the FBI in April, admitted he was an al Qaeda sleeper a terrorist lying in wait for instructions.

"We learned a lot from this case about al Qaeda," said Kevin Brock, the FBI special agent in charge of the Faris investigation. "They are not afraid to reach out and task American citizens like Iyman Faris to do their bidding, to take overt steps to further terrorist conspiracy."

The case of Faris, the only confessed al Qaeda sleeper caught on U.S. soil, offers disturbing insight into the way the terrorist organization has attempted to operate in the United States. And Faris may have been far more dangerous than previously known.

Double Life

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced June 19 that Faris, 34, had pleaded guilty to two counts of providing material support to terrorists. Faris admitted living a "secret double life," Ashcroft said.

Although he appeared to be a normal, hardworking truck driver to his associates and neighbors, he was also an al Qaeda operative who met with Osama bin Laden and helped plot new attacks in the United States, Ashcroft said.

Faris, who was born in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, originally came to the United States in May 1994 and became a U.S. citizen in December 1999.

A commercial truck driver, Faris had access to airports and was licensed to haul flammable, poisonous chemicals.

Despite the fact he was at times suicidal, Faris was able to keep that license. He once tried to jump off a bridge in downtown Columbus, and was briefly housed in a mental hospital.