- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

Two of the five illegal aliens arrested this week in Baltimore posted bond and have been released, the Immigration and Naturalization Service said yesterday.

INS spokesman Chris Bentley said a determination was made that the five men from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia are not a flight risk.

They were taken into custody on Tuesday after being discovered in the apartment of a sixth man, Moroccan national Abderrahim Houti, who was arrested by Baltimore police on charges of attempted arson.

A bond hearing for Mr. Houti is pending. The INS set bond at $5,000 each for the five illegal aliens.

An FBI spokesman said Wednesday that agents were investigating possible terrorist links to the arrested men. But authorities close to the investigation yesterday said so far they've found no information indicating a terrorist threat.

Mr. Bentley said three of the illegal aliens entered the United States on tourist visas between August 2000 and September 2001 and had overstayed their visas. One entered the country on a tourist visa in July, but is in violation because he has been working without a work visa.

And one of the men has been on the run since July of 2001, when he jumped bail after being ordered deported by an immigration judge. "As soon as we get travel documents, he'll be sent back to his home country," Mr. Bentley said.

The two men who posted bond were both natives of Pakistan, and one of them was a Canadian citizen. All five of the men await deportation hearings, which are expected to take place within the next two weeks.

It was not clear why the INS determined there was no flight risk when at least one of the men has jumped bail before.

"This is a typical immigration case. These are the type of issues that we face day in and day out," Mr. Bentley said. "People come into the United States and they are caught."

Meanwhile, the INS said it determined yesterday that Mr. Houti, 42, is also an illegal alien who entered the country on a tourist visa in June of 2000.

Mr. Bentley said an INS detainer order is set on Mr. Houti. He's scheduled for a bond hearing in a Baltimore criminal court today. The detainer mandates he will be turned over to the INS after his criminal case is resolved.

Baltimore city police said officers searching Mr. Houti's apartment seized identification, some photographs, notebooks and literature, some written in Arabic.

"They also seized two computers," police spokeswoman Regina Averella said. Investigators are trying "to determine which Web sites were being explored."

According to an ABC News report, however, sources said police searching the apartment found dozens of passports, fake identification cards, photographs of Times Square in New York City and Union Station in Washington, and pamphlets on Islamic holy war.

The network also reported that the computers seized from the apartment contained links to a Web site called beapilot.com, which was linked to 1,700 flight schools.

But sources close to the investigation said it is unlikely there was any such evidence. "Because the bond was set so low, there must not be anything there," one official said. "When's the last time you can remember terrorist activity where the bond was set at only $5,000? You can't. That's verification that this is a clean case."

Neighbors and a maintenance man in Mr. Houti's apartment complex told the Baltimore Sun they were questioned by FBI agents last week who showed photos to people, asking if anyone recognized men in the photos. The FBI would not confirm the report.

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