- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

An FBI manhunt is under way for 16 persons said to have entered the United States from Mexico illegally as part of an effort to detonate a “dirty bomb” in the Boston area, law-enforcement authorities said yesterday.

Officials initially named four Chinese scientists and two Iraqi nationals in the purported plot, and then last night confirmed that the names of “10 persons of interest,” nine of them Chinese and one of unknown nationality, had been added to the six being sought for questioning.

Although the FBI said the threat from an anonymous Mexican informant has not been corroborated, local and state authorities were briefed on the matter and the names and photos of the four Chinese citizens — Zengrong Lin, Wen Quin Zheng, Xiujin Chen and Guozhi Lin — were released.

“What we’re trying to do is reassure the public that there’s no reason to panic, because the information has come from an unknown source and none of the information has been corroborated,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan in Boston. “At the same time, we have to do our diligence.

“There’s an interest on the part of law enforcement to at least locate and speak with these individuals,” Mr. Sullivan said.

The man of unknown nationality in the second group of names, first reported by the Associated Press, was tentatively identified to The Washington Times as Jose Ernesto Beltran Quinones.

A Justice Department official told The Times that the addition of the names did not mean that the threat had been corroborated, only that there were other persons with whom the FBI wanted to speak.

“There is no corroboration of the accusations at this time,” the official said. “The source of the information remains dubious as does the information itself.”

The Associated Press reported that the nine new Chinese named included one woman: Yu Xian Weng. The others were all men: Quinquan or Quiquan Lin, Liqiang Liang, Min Xiu Xie, Xiang or Xing Wei Liu, Mei Xia Dong, Xiuming Chen, Cheng Yin Liu and Zao Yun Wang.

Officials noted that none of the names of at least the first four Chinese appeared on any terrorist watch list.

Authorities said the anonymous informant told the California Highway Patrol on Wednesday that the four scientists — two men and two women — and the two Iraqis came into this country across the U.S.-Mexico border, heading for New York and then Boston, where they intended to detonate a dirty bomb, a conventional explosive laced with radioactive material.

They said the informant told the patrol the six were waiting for a shipment of “nuclear oxide” that would follow them from Mexico to Boston, although federal officials yesterday said there is no such material — creating further reason to question the tip.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney described the threat as “uncorroborated and unsubstantiated,” but yesterday left Washington, where he had intended to take part in President Bush’s inauguration, to return home. Additional state police also were assigned to patrol the airports and key infrastructure sites.

“To assure the people of Boston and Massachusetts that it is safe to be at home, I am going to be sleeping in my bed in Massachusetts tonight, and I feel perfectly safe doing so,” Mr. Romney said.

In October, federal authorities said a top al Qaeda cell leader spotted in Mexico was identified as an active player in a scheme to obtain radioactive materials for a dirty bomb that could be smuggled into the United States. They said Adnan G. El Shukrijumah attempted to enter the United States using phony passports.

El Shukrijumah also was observed in 2003 in Canada, where authorities suspect he posed as a student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. An FBI informant told authorities that the terrorist leader was seeking material to build a dirty bomb.

McMaster University has a five-megawatt research reactor, using uranium-based fuel rods from the United States. Canadian officials have denied any security breach of the McMaster facility.

Authorities said El Shukrijumah lived in the same South Florida area as Jose Padilla, now being held as an enemy combatant in a plot to detonate a dirty bomb, and they worshipped at the same mosque. They said their names surfaced during the interrogation of captured senior al Qaeda organizer Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, one of Osama bin Laden’s closest advisers.

El Shukrijumah, for whom the State Department has offered a $5 million reward, is being sought for questioning by the FBI in connection with terrorist threats against the United States.

Authorities said El Shukrijumah is thought to have met with alien smugglers in Mexico and Honduras, seeking help in bringing al Qaeda members illegally into the United States.

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