Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Troubling Reticence over U.S. "Terrorism" Cases

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Troubling Reticence over U.S. "Terrorism" Cases

Article excerpt

The Troubling Reticence Over U.S. "Terrorism" Cases

"There is certainly a legitimate public curiosity to the question of was there a great force behind this, and if there was, who was it?" -- Federal prosecutor Henry J. DePippo, who tried the World Trade Center bombing case in 1993 and 1994, quoted in The New York Times, Aug. 4, 1997

Such peculiar things are happening in two entirely separate "Middle East terrorism" cases in New York that it's time for all involved to stop, take a deep breath, and ask -- what's really going on here?

First the facts in the latest case: On the night of July 30 a newly arrived Egyptian, Abdul Rahman Mossabah, flagged down a New York transit police car and said that two young Palestinians with whom he was sharing a Brooklyn house were making bombs. After telling his story to metropolitan police, he went back to the house and went to sleep. Then, early the next morning, after evacuating nearby buildings, the police raided the house, shooting each of the Palestinians several times after one allegedly reached for a bomb, and the other allegedly reached for a policeman's gun.

Miraculously both Palestinians survived, but have been held incommunicado ever since while police exhibited one device apparently ready for use as a suicide bomb, and the makings of three other bombs. Police also said they found a rambling unsigned message that seemed to be threatening a series of bomb attacks. It also demanded the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric serving a life sentence in New York for a plot to blow up New York city landmarks; Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas leader jailed by Israel; Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who went on trial in New York Aug. 4 on charges he masterminded the World Trade Center bombing, and other militants.

"I think we were close to a disaster," said James Kallstrom, head of the FBI New York office. Later, however, as things got progressively murkier, another investigator said, "The more we look at these two guys, the less they look like suicide bombers." Then Kallstrom made another statement that "it is totally wrong to say that these individuals are connected to Hamas."

"They're not exactly living the religious life, looking to die for Allah," a federal investigator told staff writer John Kifner of The New York Times. In fact, Kifner wrote in the Aug. 5 issue, "The picture that is emerging of the two suspects, Ghazi Ibrahim Abu Maizar and Lafi Khalil, suggests a pair of drifters and street hustlers, living hand-to-mouth on short-term jobs and hanging out in neighborhood stores."

Abu Maizar had arrived in the U.S. from Canada, where he had been convicted of assault and for using a stolen credit card. Canadian authorities said he had used 10 different aliases there. U.S. authorities caught him three times trying to cross the border into Washington state. The third time, in January of this year, he claimed political asylum and was allowed to stay for a hearing. He said the Israelis had charged him with being a member of Hamas and twice had tried to turn him into an informer against his fellow Palestinians.

On June 23, Abu Maizer withdrew his request for asylum and was ordered to leave the U.S. by Aug. 23. Meanwhile he purportedly supported himself in New York and in North Carolina with grocery store jobs, none of which lasted for long, while he and Khalil looked for Americans wives who would make them eligible for the green cards granted to permanent residents.

In his home town of Hebron, members of his middle-class family laughed at his asylum request, saying he was a political and "exaggerates a lot." They said he had been arrested once and held between 5 and 10 days with other rock-throwers during the intifada -- little more than a rite of passage for Hebron teenagers. A former Hebron neighbor described him as a petty thief who had broken into cars to steal stereos.

Twenty-two-year-old Lafi Khalil, who apparently met Abu Maizar for the first time in the U. …

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