- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore yesterday said law-enforcement officers would be foolish to assume that there is no link between the al Qaeda terrorist network and the Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha.

“MS-13 is the most violent street gang around, and Homeland Security has said it makes sense to see these gangs as being targeted by al Qaeda,” Mr. Kilgore, a former state attorney general, told The Washington Times. “We’d be crazy to put our heads in the sand and just say there could never be a link.”

Two Northern Virginia prosecutors yesterday criticized the Republican candidate for similar statements he made last week. The prosecutors dismissed Mr. Kilgore’s comments as “pandering” and an attempt to score political points.

“We certainly have not seen any evidence that there is any connection between any gang and al Qaeda,” said Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Sengel. “It just makes the problem worse for those of us who are trying to deal with it on the front lines.”

Mr. Sengel and Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard Trodden made their comments during a press conference call set up by a campaign arm of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

“My gut reaction is that gangs are unfortunately a hot button these days. … It sounds like he just went a bit too far,” Mr. Trodden said. “I have not seen any evidence of this in our prosecution, nor have I heard any confirmation of it from our federal counterparts.”

Mr. Kilgore, speaking on a radio program in Charlottesville on Thursday, said “MS-13 is being contacted by al Qaeda … to work in partnership with al Qaeda.” He cited a Washington Times article published in March, and made reference to a Times report from September last year.

The March article stated that former Homeland Security Deputy Secretary James Loy told a Senate committee in February that MS-13 was an emerging national security threat and suggested that al Qaeda terrorists may have targeted the gang’s illegal-alien smuggling operations to get into the United States.

The September article, citing law-enforcement authorities, stated that Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a top al Qaeda lieutenant for whom the U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward, had met with MS-13 leaders in Honduras to seek help infiltrating the U.S.-Mexico border.

FBI officials in Washington and Richmond in recent days have said investigations have turned up no known links between MS-13 and al Qaeda, but Mr. Kilgore yesterday said he wouldn’t retract his comments, and dismissed Mr. Sengel, Mr. Trodden and other critics.

“In this post-9/11 word we live in, we have got to be ever vigilant to make sure al Qaeda does not get a toehold in the United States,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Democratic candidate Timothy M. Kaine said the Kaine campaign did not orchestrate the conference call.

Delacey Skinner said Mr. Kaine, the lieutenant governor, supported a $1.38 billion tax reform package last year that increased spending for public safety. Mr. Kilgore did not support the package, which raised some taxes and lowered others.

“The lieutenant governor’s solution to the challenges that Virginia faces in gangs and terrorism is to support the men and women on the front lines fighting gangs and terrorism every day,” she said.

Tim Murtaugh, a Kilgore spokesman, said Mr. Kaine was trying to distract voters from Mr. Kilgore’s anti-gang record.

“Tim Kaine has done nothing to stem the growing tide of gang activity,” Mr. Murtaugh said.

Mr. Kilgore has said that as governor he would work to eliminate the state’s “triggerman rule,” which limits capital charges to the direct killer rather than those who organize or plan the crime. Virginia law also does not make the killing of a witness a specific capital crime.

Mr. Kaine does not support eliminating the rule.

The campaign of independent gubernatorial candidate H. Russell Potts Jr., a Republican state senator from Winchester, issued no response yesterday.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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