Queries rise on tunnel tipster

FBI can't confirm account

associates say Egyptian lied

October 20, 2005|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

Law enforcement officials and members of the local Egyptian community are raising new questions about an informant who prompted Maryland officials to close two Baltimore harbor tunnels and a major interstate, fearing a suspected terrorist attack.

A day after the tunnel closures, the FBI has been unable to corroborate the account of the informant - an Egyptian who once lived in the Baltimore area and is now being held in the Netherlands on immigration violations.

No criminal charges have been filed in the alleged plot to blow up one of Baltimore's harbor tunnels, the FBI confirmed yesterday.

"I think there is doubt, because nothing happened and nothing else has been developed to corroborate the account," said a federal law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

The informant's motives remain murky. But in interviews yesterday, associates of the four men detained in the case said they believe they know the identity of the informant and that he had lied because his friends failed to get him back into the United States.

His information, which included names of people living and working in Baltimore, helped persuade Maryland Transportation Authority Police to close Interstate 95 Tuesday at the Fort McHenry Tunnel and Interstate 895 at the Harbor Tunnel. Authorities tied up traffic for hours as they searched cars and trucks for explosives while FBI and immigration agents scoured the region for the men named by the informant.

The tipster alleged that at least six Egyptians living in the Baltimore area were plotting to drive a bomb-laden vehicle into one of the tunnels and detonate the explosives. The explosives were to have been smuggled into port aboard a ship, according to the informant. Agents searched a Southeast Baltimore market and at least three pizza restaurants and detained four Middle Eastern men on immigration violations.

Suied Mohamad-Ahamad, 25, and Mohamed Ahmed Mohamady Ismail, 30, both Egyptians, were taken into custody at Safa's Pizza on Merritt Avenue in Dundalk.

A third man, Ahmad al Momani, 58, from Jordan, was picked up at Koko Market, a Middle Eastern business in Highlandtown.

Mohamed Mohamed Abdel Hamed, 29, also Egyptian, was arrested in the 2900 block of Sollers Point Road in Dundalk.

The owner of the Koko Market was arrested on a gun charge, court records show. Maged M. Hussein, 41, was charged with violating a protective order by failing to surrender a revolver. The protective order had been obtained by his estranged wife last month in Baltimore County.

`A good man'

Kamal Zughbar, 63, who lives in a basement apartment on Rappolla Street in the Greektown neighborhood, described al Momani as a friend and fellow Jordanian immigrant whom he has known for about five years.

"He's a good man," Zughbar said. "That's what I know."

Abdel Hamed's and Mohamad-Ahamad's landlord said the men told her they are cousins when they rented the basement of her brick rowhouse on Sollers Point Road about eight months ago.

Eileen Katherine said she was shocked when FBI agents took Abdel Hamed away in handcuffs Tuesday.

"We had no idea," she said, referring to their alleged illegal immigration status.

Abdel Hamed was divorced from a woman in Egypt and had a 4-year-old daughter, Katherine said. She said both men sent money to their families in Egypt.

She said friends at Didi's Pizzeria Restaurant and Carryout, where she said the men worked, came to get their belongings from the apartment yesterday.

`Ulterior motives'

Ahmed Barbour, manager of Didi's Pizzeria in Dundalk, said he believes the informant is a man who used to work for him at the restaurant. He said the man, about 25 or 26 years old, came to the United States with a group of fellow Egyptians several years ago and was deported last year on immigration violations.

Federal sources interviewed for this article said they could not confirm that. But one law enforcement source did say that the informant was an Egyptian and had lived in Baltimore in recent years. The source said the informant had a "questionable" performance on a polygraph.

Since being deported, the man has tried furiously to get back into the United States, said Barbour, sitting behind a cluttered desk in a smoky office in the back of his pizzeria, a carry-out located behind a 7-Eleven on Holaview Road in Dundalk.

"He tried calling people here" to have money sent to him, Barbour said. The people he was calling were the same ones he came to this country with, Barbour said. "He gets very sad."

Carol Barbour, an employee at Didi's, confirmed her husband's account, saying the informant had "ulterior motives" for tipping off the FBI to a bomb threat that she believes never was.

"Does he understand what he's done?" she asked.

The four men detained Tuesday remain in federal custody on prior deportation orders. One was named by the informant as a conspirator in the alleged tunnel plot, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

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