Two illegal aliens released despite city police protest

Hearing for 3rd postponed again to find interpreter

September 13, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Two illegal immigrants detained Tuesday have been released from custody, and the bail hearing for a 42-year-old man arrested with them was postponed for a second time yesterday because he needed an interpreter.

The immigrants were released as Baltimore police and federal officials apparently have begun to disagree over the significance of the arrests of six men Tuesday in a Northwest Baltimore apartment.

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said the men should not have been released because they came from countries associated with terrorism, police found suspicious items in the apartment and detectives continue to explore possible ties to illegal activity.

"I think we have a little more than visa fraud," Norris told WMAR-TV and other television stations in an interview yesterday afternoon at police headquarters.

"I'm suspicious of these gentlemen," Norris told the stations. "If they were able to be held, I wish they would have been held."

Federal officials have consistently said that the men did not appear to commit any offenses other than overstaying visas and that authorities have no evidence linking them to terrorism.

Bail was set relatively low for all of the men, in contrast to the cases of potential witnesses and others suspected of terrorist activity across the country. In some cases, immigrants even remotely tied to potential terrorist activities have been held without bail in federal custody.

Two of the men arrested Tuesday - a Canadian of Pakistani origin and a Pakistani - were released Wednesday afternoon after posting $5,000 bond each, officials said yesterday.

Bail for two others, a Canadian of Afghan origin and an Afghan, also had been set at $5,000 each. It could not be determined yesterday whether those two men had been released.

Another man, a Somali, was being held without bail for having ignored a judge's order that he be deported.

The man at the center of the case is Abderrahim Houti, 42, an immigrant from Morocco who lived in an apartment in the 3600 block of Labyrinth Road in Northwest Baltimore.

Police arrested Houti Tuesday morning at the apartment on charges that he harassed and threatened an Owings Mills woman and her family.

During the arrest, detectives found seven other men of Middle Eastern descent staying with Houti.

Detectives became suspicious of the men because they were of Middle Eastern descent and several could provide no identification. The apartment was also sparsely furnished, police said.

Police then summoned help from agents with the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Five of the men were determined to be illegal aliens and were taken into federal custody. Two others were released after questioning.

Norris said what police seized made him "uneasy" and led him to believe the men might be something other than simply illegal aliens.

Police confiscated two computers, one of which was attached to a camera they believed was used to make fake identification. The computers also contained links to flight training Web sites.

Police also seized passports, documents and literature, some of which was in Arabic, including the word jihad, or holy war, law enforcement officials said.

Norris said the investigation was in its early stages. "You never know where the investigation is going to take you," he added.

Houti first appeared in Maryland District Court on Wednesday and requested a French or Arabic interpreter to help him understand the proceedings. Court officials provided him with a French interpreter yesterday.

Minutes into yesterday's hearing, his interpreter said Houti could not understand what she was saying and would need someone who speaks Arabic from North Africa. Houti came to the United States in June 2000 from Morocco.

Judge Theodore B. Oshrine ordered that the hearing be postponed again until today.

At one point during the proceedings, Houti looked at the statement of charges alleging the harassment and said in French to the interpreter that he had not committed the offenses.

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