Details about tipster emerge

With tunnel threat all but discounted, focus is on motive

October 22, 2005|By MATTHEW DOLAN, SIOBHAN GORMAN AND JOSH MITCHELL | MATTHEW DOLAN, SIOBHAN GORMAN AND JOSH MITCHELL,SUN REPORTERS

Federal officials investigating a tip that terrorists were plotting to blow up one of Baltimore's tunnels - which they doubt was ever true - have now focused their attention on the tipster, an Egyptian who once lived in the city.

The informant's account, relayed to U.S. investigators from a detention center in the Netherlands where he is being held on immigration violations, set off a chain of events that shut down one of the nation's busiest highways and sent agents swarming into at least three Baltimore-area businesses operated by expatriate Arabs.

Investigators want to know why the man, about whom new details have emerged, made his allegations.

"We're fairly confident that the source's information was not accurate. The source's motivation is as yet undetermined," said Joanie O'Brien, the acting special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore field office.

No evidence of a bomb plot has been uncovered.

Another federal law enforcement source familiar with the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said investigators have been unable to corroborate the threat information after extensive investigation and analysis and have virtually shut down that aspect of the probe.

The official also confirmed that there was no continuing threat to the tunnels.

"Not from this guy," he said. "I don't think there is anything else out there, either."

The tipster said that Egyptians living in the Baltimore area were plotting to drive a bomb-laden vehicle into one of the tunnels and detonate the explosives.

Agents arrested four illegal immigrants from the Middle East who had been ordered previously to leave the country. None is believed to be involved in kind of terror plot, law enforcement officials said.

Federal authorities have refused to release the Egyptian informant's name, saying it is classified. But several members of the local Egyptian community, including some who were questioned by investigators as part of the probe, said they believe him to be a 27-year-old man who entered the United States illegally about five years ago. They said he was deported last year, which was confirmed yesterday by an immigration official.

Investigators, speaking on the condition of anonymity, provided details about the informant that match accounts of the people in Baltimore. A spokesman for the Dutch national prosecutor's office confirmed that a man being held by Dutch immigration authorities tipped the FBI.

Carol Barbour, a Baltimore resident who is married to an Egyptian-American, said the man she believes is the informant has repeatedly called acquaintances, asking their help to get back to the United States.

She said her husband, Ahmed Barbour, once employed the man as a driver at Didi's Pizzeria in Dundalk, where he worked off and on. The restaurant was one of the businesses searched Tuesday by federal agents.

"He was calling my husband like 20 times a day," said Carol Barbour, who believes she knows the man.

The man came to the country with a group of Egyptians who illegally crossed the Mexican border, Ahmed Barbour said. He started living in Maryland in August 2001, with an address on O'Donnell Street in Baltimore, the court papers state.

He was deported after being arrested on a traffic violation.

He initially went back to Egypt, then Ecuador, eventually planning to get back in the country, Ahmed Barbour said. Somehow the man ended up in the Netherlands.

"No matter where he is, he's always constantly calling over here," often with a phone card, Carol Barbour said. He would ask for money or any kind of help in getting back into the U.S., she said.

He also wanted to get back with a woman he had started seeing before he left the country, she said. Previously, he had married a Dundalk woman and hoped to obtain a green card, Carol Barbour said.

The couple wed in Towson on Halloween 2001 and separated in May 2002, according to court records. She filed for divorce in June 2004, the records show.

By last year, his address was listed in Barta Berhia Calubia, Egypt, though, according to the court papers, his estranged wife could not reach him there.

He was deported from the United States to Egypt in February 2004 because he had entered the country illegally, according to an immigration official familiar with the case.

The couple had no children, and his wife did not seek alimony. "I don't want it," she wrote in her petition. She would not comment when reached by telephone earlier this week.

The woman's lawyer did not return calls yesterday seeking comment.

Maged M. Hussein, the U.S. citizen from Egypt who owns the Koko Market, a Southeast Baltimore convenience store, said he is friends with the informant's ex-girlfriend, who lives in the area. Hussein said he knows the man he believed to be the informant as a former customer.

"How can you believe somebody like that, somebody that has been deported from the country?" he said last week. "You still take his word?"

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