Investigators arrest 10 people in nationwide search to protect movement of hazardous materials

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Law enforcement authorities arrested 10 Middle Eastern men in three states Wednesday on charges of fraudulently obtaining licenses to transport hazardous materials. The arrests were made in connection with the terrorist attacks investigation.

The arrests in Missouri, Michigan and Washington state followed FBI warnings that terrorists may strike next using chemical or biological weapons. Authorities said as many as 20 people who had the bogus permits, some of whom may have connections to the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, have been charged but may not be linked to the attacks.

FBI affidavits for the 10 arrested said a total of 18 people from seven states had falsely obtained licenses in Pennsylvania to haul hazardous materials between July 1999 and February 2000.

It's too early to tell whether any of those arrested Wednesday are connected to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, said Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden.

Those arrested got the licenses from the state of Pennsylvania, where a driver's license examiner in Pittsburgh provided permits to people who didn't take required tests, had suspended licenses or were otherwise not eligible, according to court records.

In court papers, the FBI said a Middle Eastern man named Abdul Mohamman, known as "Ben," acted as a middleman in the scheme, bringing in as many as 30 drivers who fraudulently obtained commercial licenses to carry hazardous materials.

The FBI quoted the examiner, identified in the affidavit only as CW-1, as saying that he was introduced to "Ben" about six years ago.

The examiner told the FBI he "issued HAZMAT endorsements to these individuals at Ben's instruction without conducting the required test."

"Ben paid between $50 and $100 per individual by placing the money in 'brand-new' bills under CW-1's desk calendar," said the FBI affidavit.

The concern about licenses to haul chemicals first surfaced last week when authorities arrested Nabil Al-Marabh, 34, a former Boston cab driver taken into custody in Chicago last week. Al-Marabh holds a commercial driver's license and is certified to transport hazardous materials, records show.

In El Salvador, national police director Mauricio Sandoval said the FBI has detained a Salvadoran man, Luis Martinez-Flores, who allegedly helped the suspected terrorists obtain false identification cards. Martinez-Flores "may have moved" around "with the terrorists in New York, Boston or Florida," Sandoval told a news conference.

The name Luis Martinez-Flores turned up last week on a list of 21 people whose financial records the FBI had asked all U.S. banks to check. The 19 suspected hijackers were on the list, along with Martinez-Flores and one other person.

Martinez-Flores is apparently being held by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Virginia as an illegal immigrant, Sandoval said.

In Virginia, the government increased its pressure on a former airline food worker whose name and phone number were found in a car registered to one of the terrorist hijackers, persuading a federal court to detain him without bail.

Prosecutors described Mohamed Abdi of Virginia as an essential witness and said "he may be more." Abdi's lawyer insisted he knew nothing about the Sept. 11 attacks.

Another man, Herbert Villalobos, charged with helping a hijacker get a photo identification card, was also denied bail by a federal magistrate in Alexandria, Va., as prosecutors sought to keep possible suspects jailed until it could be determined whether they were tied to the attacks.

Meanwhile, a federal prosecutor in New York said Al-Badr Al-Hazmi, a San Antonio radiologist detained for close to two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks and released Tuesday, never was a subject of the investigation.

Al-Hazmi "voluntarily answered all questions put to him," said U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White. "He was not and is not a subject of this investigation."

Across the globe, authorities continued to crack down on terrorism suspects. In Spain, police detained six Algerians allegedly linked to Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the suicide jet attacks, and to a group suspected of planning attacks on U.S. targets in Europe.

In Britain, authorities captured a French citizen alleged to have been involved in a plot to attack U.S. interests in Europe. France has already placed seven other suspects in the case under formal investigation, a step before being charged.

Authorities say the eight all are believed to have ties to bin Laden. Evidence found during arrests in France last week suggest the suspects were part of a group scouting out European locations for attacks, with the U.S. Embassy in Paris a prime target.


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