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Terrorism: December 31, 1999
   

Y2K WATCH: The US has evacuated 352 diplomats and their dependents from US embassies in consulates in Russia, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine specifically due to concerns that Russia may suffer major Y2K disruptions. Russian and US military officers began operating the joint Y2K monitoring center at Peterson Air Force Base, watching for any military problems that might be caused or worsened by Y2K. The fear is not really that a Y2K problem could launch a missile, but that warning systems disrupted by a Y2K problem might not be able to properly evaluate some unusual event, turning a curious situation into a military confrontation. The US is paying the cost of the Russian team. Russia has insisted that the Y2K problem will not affect it space mission control center or the orbiting space station Mir. Israeli police have increased security around the ancient city of Megiddo, which is also known as Armageddon. This was a traditional battlefield in ancient times and the name became synonymous with any decisive battle. The Israelis are concerned that "end time fanatics" might conduct disruptive attacks or stage mass suicides in the city on New Year's eve. Israeli police in Jerusalem expect 450,000 Muslim worshippers as New Year's Eve is the last Friday of Ramadan. --Stephen V Cole


December 31; TERRORISM WATCH: 

@ Federal agents swarmed across the US, questioning dozens of people regarding arrested terrorist suspect Ahmed Ressam. Police have arrested Algerian Abdel Ghani in New York, saying that he had planned to meet Ressam in Seattle and travel with him to Chicago raise money for a terrorist organization. The FBI said that Ghani had gone to Seattle but returned to New York after Ressam was arrested on 14 Dec. Ressam was supposed to drive his explosive-loaded car to a particular parking lot and then leave it there for other conspirators to pick up. Ghani was reportedly furious that Ressam had brought explosives into the US, as this was too likely to result in his arrest, and wanted Ressam to restrict his activities only to fund raising. Ghani was charged, among other things, with conspiring to use phony credit cards. Eight others were arrested after questioning (four in Boston, four in New York), but these were apparently all on non-terrorist charges such as using an expired visa or fake work permit. The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee complained that people were being hauled in for questioning merely because they were of Algerian descent.

@ Federal prosecutors linked Ahmed Ressam (arrested near Seattle) to Lucia Garafalo (arrested in Vermont) for the first time, saying both were linked to the Armed Islamic Group, a known radical and extremely violent terrorist organization. The GIA has been linked to hundreds of attacks in Algeria and to several bomb attacks in France. Garafalo was also linked to Ressam's former room mate, Said Atmani, a man known to have forged documents for the GIA, and to Grahim Mahdi, head of the Algerian Islamic League (another terrorist group). The activities of this cell are curious, as the GIA has previously shown no interest in anything not directly connected to the civil war in Algeria. However, Ghani was known to frequently complain that "the CIA is running Algeria".

@ The explosive that Ressam was carrying was originally reported as nitroglycerine, an extremely dangerous and unstable material that is not really practical for terrorist weapons. It has now been identified as RDX (cyclotrimethylene trinitramine), an explosive used by military units around the world.

@ Two hundred pounds of explosives (125 pounds of dynamite and C4, and 75 pounds of gunpowder) were stolen from a police storage bunker in central California over the Christmas weekend. Curiously, the blasting caps needed to detonate the dynamite or C4 were left behind. Fresno, the nearest major city, said its millennium celebrations would proceed as planned.

@ Federal agents searched an airliner that had just arrived in Los Angeles from Malaysia, expecting to find terrorist devices and nine suspected terrorists. Finding nothing, they did arrest one woman who was trying to enter the US on a forged passport.--Stephen V Cole

December 29; Thailand opposition leader (and former Prime Minister) Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said in the final day of the No Confidence Debate that the current government had allowed associates of Osama bin Laden to set up a base of operations in the country. Chavalit said that the man in question had provided arms to the Myanmar activists who took over the Burmese embassy, was wanted by Cambodian police, and was linked to an explosion at a local oil refinery. (Chavalit's claims were regarded as a desperate tactic as the No Confidence motion is doomed by a strong government majority in parliament. Thai police said the oil refinery explosion was probably accidental.) --Stephen V Cole

December 29; Pakistan has arrested Khalil Deek (who holds both Palestinian and US citizenship) and has extradited him to Jordan. He is thought to be part of the group, linked to Osama bin Laden, that was arrested in Jordan several days ago. --Stephen V Cole

December 29;  Police in the US are investigating a report that Abdelmajed Dajid Dahoumame was seen buying an airplane ticket at Bellingham Airport in Washington State. As a ticket agent recognized Dahoumame from a photo sometime after the event, police could not be certain that it was the wanted suspect or just someone who looked more or less like him. Bellingham is located only a few miles from the Canadian border. The police suspect that an accomplice of Ahmed Ressam was traveling with him, but was elsewhere on the ferry when Ressam was arrested and fled before police knew to look for him. British anti-terrorist police arrested Ramdane Zouabri, an Algerian linked to the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the most radical of the Algerian fundamentalist organizations. Ramdane's brother, Antar Zouabri (also known as "Abou Talha"), is head of the GIA. Ramdane reportedly made threatening phone calls to a moderate Algerian community leader in London. US officials warned that terrorist attacks were as likely to come from crazed individuals as from organized groups of terrorists or "end time" fanatics. New York police said there would be special security for the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, and Times Square.--Stephen V Cole

December 29; MILLENNIUM TERRORISM WATCH: The Y2K crisis may have more to do with terrorist attacks by the usual suspects (plus a new host of "'end time" radicals) than a computer bug. The Pentagon has ordered US troops abroad to tighten security against potential attacks, and the State Department has issued renewed warnings to civilians living abroad (extending the danger period into mid-January) and has ordered all embassies to increase security. The FAA has rigorously tightened airport security, adding delays to miserably crowded holiday travel. The White House held a special anti-terrorism conference of top US security officials on 21 Dec. The US Customs Service assigned 300 extra inspectors to beef up border security. Montreal police sized books, papers, and computer disks from a home in Montreal linked to the Algerian man who tried to smuggle explosive devices into the US from Canada near Seattle last week. One Algerian living in the apartment was detained for questioning (possibly as a witness, not a suspect), but no explosives were found. A second Algerian (Bouabide Chamchi) was arrested (along with his Canadian wife, Lucia Garofalo) trying to enter Vermont from Canada; his passport was apparently fraudulent. Drug-sniffing dogs found traces of what might be explosive material in his car, but no actual explosives were found. The US says it has no specific information regarding potential attacks on US soil, but then it did not know about the Algerians and the possible bomb attack in Seattle until they were arrested. A manhunt continues for others linked to the arrested Algerians, and for a California resident with links to Osama bin Laden. Joint Chiefs General Shelton and his staff were evacuated from their Pentagon offices on 21 Dec after a suspicious electrical device was spotted in the office ceiling. It turned out, however, to be only some leftover parts left by a careless electrical contractor. --Stephen V Cole

December 29; Y2K ALERT: QUIETLY ON STANDBY: John Koskinem, chairman of the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, said on 26 Dec that there was nothing to be concerned about. Koskinem said that the 911 system was 95% ready for Y2K, and that the government had printed an extra $50 billion in cash so that people drawing out their savings or getting extra money for the "crisis weekend" would not cause a cash shortage and panic. Koskinem said that the power grid was Y2K tested and should survive the night, downplaying any chance that a terrorist attack could do more than local damage. Anderson AFB on Guam will be the official Y2K sentinel for the US military. Due to the way time zones are laid out, the New Year will first appear in the mid-Pacific and will then sweep around the globe. As the first significant military outpost which will enter the new year (and, some say, the new millennium), Anderson should experience the first of any serious computer failures. If some unknown problem, for example, caused military aircraft to crash, there would be plenty of time for all US military aircraft to land before the problem reached their time zone. Guam is 15 hours ahead of Washington, DC. The National Infrastructure Protection Center (inside FBI headquarters) will monitor the situation during late December and early January, watching for cyberwar attacks on the US computer system slipping in under the cover of whatever disruptions Y2K brings. The NIPC operates out of the FBI's Strategic Information and Operations Center. The SIOC looks more like the bridge of the starship Enterprise than a police headquarters with computers and huge television screens able to keep track of up to five "crisis events" at the same time. SIOC covers 40,000 square feet, and cost $20 million. The facility has 35 rooms and can seat up to 450 during a crisis. --Stephen V Cole

December 28;: Canada has increased security checks on travelers entering the country in the week before Christmas, concerned that dangerous individuals may be using Canada as a means of entering the US. Canada said its airports were on "primary alert" until after New Year's Day. Passengers must now produce two forms of photographic identification. --Stephen V Cole

Ahmed Ressam (arrested trying to enter the US near Seattle with bomb-making materials) was indicted on five charges, but pled not guilty. He faces 40 years in prison if found guilty. The charges included: smuggling bomb-making components, making false statements to customs officials, transporting explosives without a permit, possessing an unregistered handgun, and carrying explosives during the commission of a felony. Ressam was trying to drive to Seattle, where he had airline reservations to Chicago and then New York. This suggests that he might have been carrying supplies to other terrorists already inside the US. Bouabide Chamchi of Algeria and Lucia Garofalo (a Canadian citizen married to an Algerian, but apparently not to Chamchi as first reported) were ordered held without bail on charges of using a false passport to enter the US. Both were from Montreal, where Ressam had stayed before trying to enter the US, but no other connection to Ressam has been made. Garofalo was charged with smuggling an illegal alien. Customs officials said that the traces of explosives in their car detected by dogs may indicate that the car was used earlier in a broader plot to move explosives, possibly into the US. Canadian intelligence had tracked suspected terrorist Ahmed Ressam (arrested near Seattle) for several years since he arrived in Canada during 1994, but dropped the coverage of him a few weeks ago due to a lack of manpower and money. At the time the decision was made, Ressam had not done anything to arouse sustained suspicion. Canadian intelligence is convinced that Ressam received training in how to build bombs at one of Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan and was a member of the GIA, the radical Moslem insurgent group in Algeria. When Ressam arrived in Canada, he had claimed that he was a political refugee, persecuted by the Algerian government for being a member of a terrorist organization (which he denied any links to). Canadian courts rejected his plea for this status. He was ordered deported, but managed to delay this until Canada suspended the deportation of Algerians in 1997 due to the Algerian Civil War. Ressam has also been linked to Fateh Kamel, a terrorist held in a French jail after being deported from Jordan. Kamel is linked to the group of Algerian terrorists who conducted attacks around Roubaix. Ressam had obtained a valid Canadian passport under the name of Benni Noris on the basis of a baptismal record. Said Atmani, another Algerian with links to terrorist groups and an associate of Ressam, remains at large. The car that carried Algerian Bouabide Chamchi and Canadian woman Lucia Garofalo arrested in Vermont (as well as her cell phone) were traced to Brahim Mahdi, an Algerian extremist and member of the Algerian Islamic League, a group linked to terrorist attacks in Europe. Garofalo's husband was deported from Canada in 1993 after he tried to enter the US with a forged French passport. He was later arrested in London with a forged Greek passport.  The US is investigating evidence gathered by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service regarding arrested bomb suspect Ahmed Ressam. Years of Canadian surveillance reports are being scoured for clues to his associates and plans. Abdel Majid Dahoumane, an Algerian living in Canada and known to be linked to Ressam was being sought on a Canada-wide arrest warrant. Dahoumane has been identified as the man who spent three days with Ressam at a Vancouver Hotel before Ressam tried to enter the US. Police found no explosives at Dahoumane's apartment in Montreal. Brahim Madi, accused by the US of being a member of the Algerian Islamic League, and Mourad Dhina, accused of founding the AIL and of trafficking in weapons for terrorists, have both denied any connection to terrorist attacks or to the suspects arrested by US police; both insist that the AIL is not a terrorist organization. Both said the group disbanded in 1995. This could even be true. It would not be too much of a coincidence that radical Algerians who gravitated toward terrorist groups might have earlier been members of the same radical group. Dhina said that the Algerian secret service had ordered the US to arrest the two men as they were politically active against the repressive Algerian government. Senator Kerry warned that the US risked creating "a wider war" if it was not careful when publicly identifying possible terrorists. He indicated that if Ressam and the pair arrested in Vermont were in fact not sent on missions by Osama bin Laden, then accusing him could actually inspire him to launch attacks he might not otherwise have considered. 

The Energy Department ordered tighter security around nuclear weapons plants. Security was visibly tightened at the US embassy at Awkar, Lebanon. Americans in Mexico were warned about terrorist attacks on large post-Christmas gatherings. German police increased security at Frankfurt airport after reports that letter bombs had been mailed from that city. All mail was being tested in an altitude chamber to see if there were bombs set to explode at high altitude. Panic spread over terrorist reports that proved to be less than first reported. New York was the target of a three-day search for a blue van. A service station attendant reported that the occupants were clearly from the Middle East and had been very nervous about anyone approaching the van. When the van was located, there was no trace of explosives and police suspect that something else (perhaps illegal aliens or contraband) was being smuggled. No arrests were made. In Ontario, California, a telephone tip said that there was a bomb in a certain truck parked at a highway intersection. Police shut down two major highways to search the truck, but found no explosives and said the incident appeared to be a dirty trick played as part of a marital dispute. The driver and his two children were arrested. Massachusetts police blew up a package that turned out to contain only chocolate and a music box; it had the wrong zip code and the Post Office had decided that it was a bomb intended to destroy a postal facility. --Stephen V Cole