By Catherine Ivey, Associated Press, 12/30/99
BOSTON - Five men, three of whom identified themselves as Algerian, were arrested Thursday by federal officials wanting to question them about their possible links to Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian arrested in Washington state on explosive smuggling charges.
The FBI questioned people in major cities from New York to California on Thursday, prompted by information suggesting the individuals might know something about Ressam.
As a result of the interviews in Boston, two of the men were arrested on criminal charges, including having a false green card and illegal entry into the United States, according to federal officials. The other three were held on civil charges related to their immigration status.
The officials said it was too soon to comment on whether a link had been established between the five arrested and Ressam. Ressam is charged with trying to smuggle military-grade explosives and timing devices into Washington from Canada on Dec. 14. He has pleaded innocent.
Officials said no specific threat had been received against Boston or Massachusetts.
Mouai Badredine, 24, one of those held on civil charges, was arrested in the city's Brighton neighborhood after fleeing from federal agents looking to question him at the moving company where he worked.
Police chased him around apartment buildings with their guns drawn and a helicopter circling overhead.
Badredine yelled at television cameras that he was "just a person that wanted to go home to Algeria _ that's it," as he was put into handcuffs. He was arrested on an outstanding deportation warrant and officials said he would be deported.
Ouali Mohamed Abdel Aziz, 24, was arrested on a charge of illegal entry into the United States. According to a criminal affidavit, Aziz illegally entered Boston in 1997 after jumping ship from an Algerian natural gas tanker docked here.
Lahouari Haoud, 31, was arrested on a charge of possessing an illegal green card. An affidavit said that Haoud legally entered the U.S. in 1995 on a six-month visa, but never applied for legal status when it expired.
An immigrations officer found a green card lying on a desk in Haoud's bedroom Thursday morning, according to an affidavit. When questioned about it, Haoud allegedly told the officer he purchased it in Boston for $200. The identification was found to belong to a Colombian woman, according to the affidavit.
Haoud and Aziz were scheduled to appear at a detention hearing on Tuesday.
Mouhamed Oukina, 25, and Amine Touarsi, 28, were arrested on civil charges of illegally residing in the United States. Officials said that they, along with Badredine, identified themselves as Algerians.
Some of the men arrested know each other, officials said.
All five can be held for three business days, but officials denied the arrests were timed to hold the men over the New Year's Eve weekend when officials are concerned of terrorist activity.
"The FBI, in concert with other federal state and local law enforcement agencies is aggressively pursuing all information and leads we received in hopes of preventing any potential acts of violence," said special agent Barry Mawn, who is in charge of the FBI's Boston office.
Boston Police Commissioner Paul Evans said the city would not change its plans to host its First Night celebration on New Year's Eve.
"I want to reiterate that we have received no specific threats in this area," Evans said. "We're confident that we will do everything humanely possible to ensure a safe holiday season and I think today's action shows that we not only talk that, but we follow it up."
Officials in Boston said they interviewed more than half a dozen people Thursday and were likely to question others in the area as a result of information obtained from the interviews.