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FBI seizes air passengers in Seattle
Passengers on flight from Japan questioned; man charged in Pittsburgh with boarding plane with concealed knife
NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES
Oct. 31 —
With officials across the nation on highest alert for a new terrorist attack, U.S. Customs and FBI agents in Seattle seized two passengers from a Northwest Airlines Corp. jetliner inbound from Narita, Japan, and held them for questioning Wednesday. Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, a Lebanese man with an expired student visa was charged with trying to board a plane with a concealed weapon. Salam Ibrahim El Zaatari, 21, was being held pending a hearing before a federal magistrate on Thursday.
EL ZAATARI TRIED to board a Northwest Airlines flight from Pittsburgh to Detroit with a “retractable razor utility knife” with a 4- to 5-inch blade on Sunday, according to the complaint. The airport director called it an artist’s knife.
El Zaatari, a former student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, was charged by federal authorities with trying to board a plane with a concealed weapon, and county police charged him with possession of a prohibited weapon.
FOUND BY RANDOM CHECK
Friends of el Zaatari said he likely forgot to take the knife out of his bag.
According to an affidavit filed in court, el Zaatari said he had been carrying the knife with him for about seven months and kept it with his work supplies. Authorities found the knife among paper and several pens in his case.
He passed through airport security gates undetected. But the knife was found during a random check at the gate by security officials, police said.
In Seattle, officials kept 201 passengers and 17 crew members on board the Northwest flight from Japan while the two unidentified men were questioned and their bags searched, said Northwest spokesman Bill Mellon.
“The FBI asked us to hold (the plane) short of the passenger terminal. Customs and FBI agents boarded the flight and have detained two men. They are questioning them and they are checking their carry-on and checked luggage,” Mellon said. Mineta vows tighter airport security
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport spokeswoman Terry-Ann Mohon said passengers are routinely held aboard the plane during such an incident.
The flight from Narita landed in Seattle at 6:10 a.m. local time and had otherwise gone normally, Mellon said.
“The were no problems on the flight. No incidents were reported,” he said.
Officials at the Seattle FBI office declined to confirm any of the details of the incident.
REASONS FOR ALERT
Monday government officials warned of a possible terrorist attack after getting intelligence from sources in the United States and abroad, including reports of the movements of al-Qaida terrorists overseas. Officials said they suspect Osama bin Laden’s inner circle may have issued new orders for attacks against Americans and are concerned the terrorists might strike even if bombing cuts them off from their central command in Afghanistan. Intelligence reports suggest one of bin Laden’s lieutenants in Afghanistan recently urged new attacks on Americans, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Other information that led to the new warning Monday from Attorney General John Ashcroft indicated that known al-Qaida operatives in Canada, Asia and elsewhere were discussing new attacks. Echoing language in an alert that the FBI issued on Oct. 11, Ashcroft said Monday the FBI had received “credible” information of possible attacks “within the United States and against United States interests abroad within the next week.” TIGHTER MEASURES Already on a high state of alert, some of the nation’s state and local police agencies announced new measures Tuesday in response to the latest warning. The Federal Aviation Administration further restricted airspace Tuesday around some 70 nuclear power plants and more than a dozen other sensitive sites, including government laboratories. In Chicago, there were tighter checks of cars around the huge Sears Tower. In Los Angeles, police urged people to reassess security at 300 sites considered possible targets. “All the things we’re doing is for their safety and the precaution to ensure that this is the safest that we can humanly make it possible,” Los Angeles police Chief Bernard Parks said.
Do terror alerts help? October 30, 2001 — Do the government’s terror alerts since Sept. 11 help, or just add to the anxiety? NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.
On Tuesday, homeland security chief Tom Ridge acknowledged the risk that repeated warnings of potential attacks might be seen as a case of “the boy who cried wolf” and might lull Americans into complacency, but said it was prudent to issue the alert. ‘LOUDER’ INTEL In response to a reporter’s question about how the new intelligence data which prompted the warning differed from the usual “noise” intelligence agencies pick up, Ridge said the alert “was occasioned by a decibel level that was louder and there were more sources.” “The intelligence analysts both in this country and elsewhere ... assessed the credibility of multiple sources as very high and that is what occasioned the alert,” he said. Extras to help you understand this complex story: • In-depth features • Multimedia • Interactive library
Ridge said analysts “would conclude that the sources were credible because of their connections with the terrorists that we’re trying to fight. ... You can fairly assume that the experts view this information (as) somehow related to al-Qaida or bin Laden — (or) else we wouldn’t have ramped it up.” At least some of the information that led to the warning came from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canadian Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay said Tuesday. “I have information that CSIS has given me, and they have also shared information with the FBI, which led Mr. Ashcroft to make the statement he made yesterday,” said MacAulay, who is responsible for the country’s law enforcement. Prime Minister Jean Chretien told Parliament Tuesday that Canada itself was under no specific threat. U.S. officials say they are also considering the possibility that the terrorists may be leaking false communications in order to disguise their real plans — including the information received in the past week. “My guess is the terrorist network is not going to avoid using the tool of disinformation,” said Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. U.S. intelligence officials are reassessing information received this spring and summer that led to a CIA warning in June that bin Laden might strike overseas. Since no attacks occurred overseas, officials wonder if the information was designed to distract officials from the plans to strike on Sept. 11. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
-- PHO (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 31, 2001