- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

The government has detained "about a dozen" Iraqis who live in the United States and has targeted thousands more for questioning in an ongoing search for information on any retaliatory attacks against America planned in response to the war with Iraq.

The "voluntary interviews" continued as authorities expanded their global manhunt for suspected al Qaeda terrorist Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, described as an "imminent threat to U.S. citizens and interests," and arrested nine persons in raids from New York to California in a suspected money-laundering and phony passport scheme.

The detained Iraqis were among about 2,000 interviewed by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement from a list of 11,000 Iraqis being sought for questioning. Some 50,000 Iraqis and Iraqi-Americans are believed to live in the United States.

Of those detained, most were named on immigration charges, although others were being held for unspecified reasons.

In a statement, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the detentions were part of heightened security implemented before the war and are "aimed at taking individuals off the street who might pose a threat to the safety and security of the American people."

Yesterday's raids, which resulted in nine arrests, were aimed at disrupting a money-laundering and false-passport scheme that authorities said could have been used to aid terrorists. In New York, the Manhattan Foreign Exchange was accused of routing $33 million, some from illegal drug sales, to Pakistan; others sent cash to Lebanon and Jordan.

"By dismantling these illegal networks, we are denying avenues for terrorist groups to raise and move funds in this country," said Michael Garcia, a top official with the new Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The arrests were part of "Operation Green Quest," a task force of federal agencies including the U.S. Customs Service, FBI, Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service, Naval Intelligence Service, Coast Guard and U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The task force has made 93 arrests and seized $35 million in terrorist financing operations and smuggled cash.

Some of the operations sold phony U.S., Pakistani, Canadian and British passports and other fraudulent travel documents, authorities said. Other arrests were made in Minnesota, New Jersey, Michigan and California.

The suspected terrorist, El Shukrijumah, 27, was likened to Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the al Qaeda hijackers who piloted jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing about 3,000 people. El Shukrijumah was last seen in late 2001 in Miami.

Authorities said information on El Shukrijumah's threat came from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks arrested three weeks ago in Pakistan and now detained by U.S. officials. There was no information on the specific threat.

El Shukrijumah is believed to have ties to Abdullah al-Muhajir, the U.S. citizen born Jose Padilla who was held in a plot to detonate a "dirty bomb" in the United States, probably in the nation's capital. Both men lived in Florida at the same time. Authorities said al-Muhajir often met top al Qaeda leaders in the weeks after September 11 to discuss further U.S. attacks.

Al-Muhajir went to Pakistan and Afghanistan several times after the suicide strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, meeting with Abu Zubaydah, a top lieutenant to Osama bin Laden, beginning in December 2001, authorities said. Zubaydah was captured in March by Pakistani police in Faisalabad.

A New York native, al-Muhajir was taken into custody in May by the FBI in Chicago after his arrival on a flight from Pakistan. He is being held by the U.S. military as an "enemy combatant."

Authorities also are investigating El Shukrijumah's possible ties to Imran Mandhai, a Florida college student convicted in a bombing conspiracy, and convicted "shoe-bomber" Richard C. Reid.

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