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Hints of mobster-terrorist connections stir concerns in FBI

WASHINGTON -- The FBI's top counterterrorism official harbors lots of concerns: weapons of mass destruction, undetected homegrown terrorists, and the possibility that old-fashioned mobsters will team up with Al Qaeda for the right price.

Although there is no direct evidence of organized crime collaborating with terrorists, the first hints of a connection surfaced in a recent undercover FBI operation. Agents stopped a man with alleged mob ties from selling missiles to an informant posing as a terrorist middleman.

That case and other factors are heightening concerns about a real-life episode of the Sopranos teaming with Osama bin Laden's followers.

``We are continuing to look for a nexus," said Joseph Billy Jr., the FBI's top counterterrorism official. ``We are looking at this very aggressively."

The new strategy involves an analysis of nationwide criminal investigations, particularly white-collar crime, side by side with intelligence and terrorist activity.

Organized crime syndicates could facilitate money transfers or laundering, human smuggling, identification fraud, or explosives and weapons acquisitions, officials said.

There are the five reputed La Cosa Nostra families in New York, Russian criminal enterprises from Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Moscow, and the emerging Asian crime syndicates that operate in many Islamic countries with Al Qaeda offshoots.

The mob's potential interest in helping a terrorist has nothing to do with ideology or sympathy but with greed, said Matt Heron, head of New York FBI's organized crime unit.

``They will deal with anybody, if they can make a buck," Heron said. ``They will sell to a terrorist just as easily as they would sell to an order of Franciscan monks. It's a business relationship to them."

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