- The Washington Times - Friday, November 30, 2001

Lawyers for some of the 20 Iraqis charged with buying bogus permits to drive hazardous cargo claimed yesterday they are baffled why Attorney General John Ashcroft still links their clients to the September 11 terror investigation.
The men, charged with obtaining fraudulent "hazmat" licenses, were the single largest group among 104 persons charged with federal crimes as a result of the probe. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said two months ago those specific arrests were apparently unrelated to attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Lawyers Thomas Farrell of Pittsburgh, where the indictments were filed, and William S. Swor of Detroit, said in separate interviews that FBI agents were justifiably intrigued by the involvement of so many Iraqis.
Iraqi refugees from Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Texas, Pennsylvania and Washington state were named in a tip from state investigators after September 11.
"Now most of these folks have been debriefed and/or polygraphed. Everyone who was polygraphed has passed. The government is satisfied there is no terrorist link to these people at all. They are just guys out to get a better job," said Mr. Swor. But he added that his knowledge of the questioning is only secondhand.
"Lawyers are not allowed to attend so lawyers do not know. Clients say they were asked if they were terrorists, what the purpose was for getting the license, did they know this person or that fact," he said.
Both lawyers said the link for all 20 was middleman Elmeliani Benmoumen, another Iraqi who was indicted for conspiracy in a plot to take $350 from each driver seeking a permit and pass on $50 to $100 to state clerk Robert Ferrari of Turtle Creek, Pa., who issued the permits. Mr. Benmoumen and Mr. Ferrari also were indicted.
There was no comment yesterday from the Justice Department or the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh.
Both lawyers called it ironic that most of the 20 men aided by Lutheran Refugee and Immigrant Services (LRIS) came to the United States via Saudi Arabia as political refugees after opposing Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Basrah uprising.
"So our enemy is their enemy," said Mr. Farrell, who added that his client, Mustafa Al-Aboody of Seattle, cooperated without complaint with federal investigators. "I think I'm confident that the government will at least attempt to act reasonably. The fact that they have not opposed bail for these fellows [has] been promising."
Ruth Dawson, director of LRIS, said yesterday LRIS relocated several thousand young men who fled into Saudi Arabia after the Basrah uprising. She believes they oppose al Qaeda terrorism.
"I doubt they were involved. They were good young men caught up in something well beyond their control," Mrs. Dawson said.
"My guy is a truck driver and a citizen, naturalized in the spring of 2000. He's back home now in Washington state where he took the driving test legally and got a commercial driver's license [CDL] with hazmat certification, but his company laid him off because he was arrested," Mr. Farrell said.
"Hazmat licenses are required for hauling anything on a federal list that is 228 pages long, ranging from aircraft evacuation slides to batteries, cigarette lighters, fish waste, chicken parts and hospital garbage," said Mr. Swor, who unofficially coordinates some two dozen lawyers in the case.
"The list is an environmental protection list. It's not any kind of bomb list," Mr. Swor said.
Government figures show more than 800,000 shipments each day involve hazardous materials, and truck hazmat accidents claim 11 lives on average per year.
"All the lawyers are wondering why are all the defendants Iraqi men. Usually if an insider is taking bribes for official favors, he doesn't confine himself to one ethnic group," Mr. Farrell said.
"You can bet that at the bail hearing if they had any inkling that any of these fellows was connected to terrorism or had even the slightest info about it, they would have raised that," Mr. Farrell said. Except for one man, all of those arrested are free on $10,000 bail each.


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