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Jewish World Review Jan. 6, 2000 /27 Teves, 5760

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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For once, kudos to the government -- LIKE A SCENE from a Hollywood thriller, dozens of federal agents and policemen, dressed in black fatigues and armed with military assault rifles and shotguns, stormed a Brooklyn apartment building last week and helped save the country from a terrorist attack.

The FBI executed the raid in response to the Dec. 14 arrest of a suspected terrorist, Ahmed Ressam, who was caught by U.S. Customs officials trying to smuggle powerful explosives into the United States from Canada.

The FBI's target was an associate of Ressam's, Abdel Ghani, and both are suspected of being members of a loose-knit Algerian terrorist organization known as the Armed Islamic Group, which is thought to be responsible for many of the 100,000 deaths from terrorism in Algeria over the last eight years. The Brooklyn raid was part of a coordinated effort by federal and international law-enforcement agencies that is help making the world a safer place.

Rarely are the U.S. government's counterterrorism efforts as visible as they have been the last few weeks. When the FBI, CIA and other counterterrorism agencies are most successful, they are least visible. We don't often know when these agencies foil an attack or thwart a plot by careful surveillance and good intelligence. But this time was different, in part, because the state department decided a month ago to warn Americans who might be traveling abroad during the holidays to take extra precautions because of the possibility of terrorist attacks. Then, the justice department followed suit by announcing stepped-up patrols at U.S. borders.

But with 500 million crossings a year, it seemed as if the government would be looking for a needle in a haystack. Yet, customs agents made several border arrests, including at least two more persons suspected of involvement with Ressam. His own actions certainly helped trigger his initial arrest -- he appeared unusually nervous, and tried to flee when agents stopped him for routine questioning at a ferry crossing at the U.S.-Canadian border -- it was good police and intelligence work that exposed his ties to radical Islamic groups. Ressam was carrying a false passport when arrested, and only his fingerprints revealed his real identity.

Since 1994, Ressam, who is Algerian, has been living in Montreal, where he has run afoul of the law several times. Although he was scheduled to be deported at one point, Canada has been reluctant to deport anyone to Algeria because of the country's unstable political situation, so Ressam remained a free man in Canada. But in February of 1998, he was arrested for stealing a laptop computer out of a parked car. Although he served only two weeks in jail, his fingerprints were kept on file, which allowed U.S. agents to learn his real identity.

Once the FBI knew whom they had in custody, they could then check other intelligence sources, which revealed his dubious past. According to The New York Times, Ressam may have trained with militant Islamic groups fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Afghanistan is now one of the primary training grounds for Islamic terrorists, and provides refuge to one of the most infamous terrorists, Osama bin Laden, who the United States believes is responsible for ordering bombings at American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 220 people.

Just as American agencies were making arrests at the U.S. border and in several U.S. cities, so, too, were intelligence agencies in other countries rounding up other members of loosely affiliated terrorist groups suspected of plotting attacks. Pakistan police arrested 200 people said to be planning assaults on American targets. Jordan arrested 13 others, all of whom are suspected of ties to Bin Laden. The French, too, have been intensely interested in the Rassam arrest because of his ties to another Algerian veteran of the Afghan war, Fateh Kamel, whom they suspect of masterminding several terrorist attacks in France and elsewhere in the mid-90s.

All of us owe our thanks to those who track these dangerous criminals. In a precarious world, these nameless men and women keep the rest of us safe through their diligence and courage. Let's not forget them when the news of this latest threat fades from the front pages of our newspapers.

Linda Chavez Archives


©1999, Creators Syndicate