- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

U.S. security agencies remained on heightened alert through the anniversary of September 11 as terrorist suspects were arrested in Baltimore and a freighter emitting radiation was stopped in New Jersey.

"We're still in a heightened-threat environment," a U.S. intelligence official said.

No terrorist strike took place on the anniversary of the worst attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor, however.

But U.S. forces in Afghanistan were the targets of two attacks and, in the United States, there were several scares and false alarms:

•In Ohio, a state office building was evacuated after a man told an employee he was there to install a bomb.

•An airliner was diverted to an Arkansas airport after passengers reported suspicious activity by four Middle Eastern men aboard.

•Law-enforcement officials in Washington were on the lookout for a stolen rental truck.

In Baltimore, police and FBI agents were investigating six men, five of whom were foreign nationals being held on charges of immigration violations. The men are suspected of being part of a terrorist cell, according to a law-enforcement official. They were among eight men who were arrested Tuesday morning at a Baltimore apartment; two were later released.

An FBI spokesman said agents are continuing to investigate terrorist links stemming from the arrests.

Three of the men were from Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Two others were Canadian citizens who were originally from Afghanistan and Pakistan, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service said.

The five foreign nationals were being held in INS custody at the Wicomico County Detention Center awaiting deportation proceedings, a spokesman said. Bond was set at $5,000 for each man, according to the Associated Press.

A sixth man, a Moroccan native living legally in the United States, was arrested on a warrant for threatening to commit arson.

Baltimore police discovered the men in an apartment in the 3600 block of Labyrinth Road. Police had an arrest warrant for Abderrahim Houti, according to police.

Mr. Houti, 36, was taken into custody, but police entering his apartment became suspicious when they found "numerous other men" inside, they said.

Regina Averella, a spokeswoman for Baltimore City police, said officers seized identification, some photographs, notebooks and literature, some written in Arabic.

"They also seized two computers, and we are obviously continuing the investigation," she said. "We're looking at the computers to see which Web sites were being explored by these individuals, and the literature that we have that was written in Arabic is being translated."

Some photographs also were found in the apartment, but Miss Averella would not specify what the photos showed.

Among the items seized in the Baltimore raid were dozens of passports, fake identification cards, photographs of Times Square in New York City and Union Station in Washington, and notebooks containing Arabic writing and pamphlets on Islamic holy war, according to ABC News. The network reported that the computers contained links to a Web site called beapilot.com, which was linked to 1,700 flight schools.

A Northwest Airlines flight from Memphis, Tenn., to Las Vegas landed in Fort Smith, Ark., after passengers reported that four Middle Eastern men aboard were acting strangely.

Passengers on the flight told investigators that the men had locked themselves in the plane's restrooms and were shaving their bodies, a practice advocated by terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta to fellow September 11 hijackers.

Three of the men will be charged with interfering with a flight crew, officials said. The fourth was released.

In Columbus, Ohio, a 41-story state office tower that houses the Ohio Supreme Court was evacuated for about two hours yesterday after dogs detected a scent of explosives and a man told a state worker, "I'm here to install a bomb," the State Highway Patrol said.

No explosives were found, and Oscar Sesmas, 35, of Columbus was taken into custody and charged with inducing panic.

Meanwhile, Washington-area law-enforcement agencies were told to be on the lookout yesterday for a 22-foot-long Ryder rental truck that was stolen Monday from a business in Washington.

Police sources said the white truck had North Carolina tags and bore the name of the local business on its sides. The theft raised fears of a truck bomb, but law- enforcement officials said they had no specific information to tie the truck theft to terrorists, other than the proximity of the theft to the September 11 anniversary.

Capitol Hill police also were on the lookout for a man identified only as Youssef who was chased by police earlier this week. Police also were on the lookout for suicide bombers, according to police officials.

Regarding the ship, Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Brendan McPherson said a Liberian-registered container ship was barred from docking in Newark, N.J., while its contents were investigated.

"There were concerns after boarding about the cargo, so the Coast Guard captain made the determination that the ship should go back out to anchorage offshore until they could verify the cargo," Cmdr. McPherson said.

The 708-foot Palermo Senator was turned away from the port after traces of radioactivity were detected, CNN reported.

In Afghanistan, unidentified attackers fired several rockets at a U.S. base near the southeastern city of Khost, a military spokesman said. "There was a rocket attack. Two 107-millimeter rockets were fired, but neither one hit with close enough proximity to do any damage," Lt. Col. Roger King said.

A gunman opened fired on a guard tower at the U.S. base in Bagram in north-central Afghanistan, and U.S. soldiers returned fire. No one was injured in either incident.

Overseas, nine U.S. embassies were shut because of fears of attacks, and U.S. military bases and forces abroad were placed on the highest level of security alert for a terrorist attack.

U.S. officials said the unprecedented security alert announced Tuesday level orange was prompted by intelligence from a captured al Qaeda leader.

The intelligence was provided by Omar al-Farouq, an al Qaeda leader who was arrested in Indonesia several months ago and who is in U.S. custody, not foreign government control as reported yesterday.

Al-Farouq is being debriefed by CIA officials at an undisclosed location.

•Dave Boyer, Jim Keary and Guy Taylor contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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