Saturday, September 22, 2001

Muslims detained in N. Ky.

Apartments raided; about 25 taken away

By Patrick Crowley and Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BURLINGTON — Dozens of federal agents descended on two Boone County apartment complexes Friday, leaving with vanloads of Islamic immigrants and confiscating computers in connection with the Sept. 11 terrorism investigation.

        No arrests were announced, but at least 25 people were detained on potential immigration law violations, the FBI said in a statement Friday evening.

[photo] Federal agents gather Friday outside Peoples Court in Burlington. At least 25 people were detained.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        Jeffrey A. Lampinski, special agent in charge of the Kentucky FBI, provided few details but did confirm that the investigation is related to the Sept. 11 attacks.

        “Numerous persons were interviewed and at least 25 have been detained on potential immigration law violations,” Mr. Lampinski said.

        Resident Christy Ellis, 22, said agents took computers and grocery bags full of items from the apartments.

        “They had some of them in handcuffs, and others just walked out and got into the vans,” she said.

        Both complexes are within 3 miles of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

        Earlier in the week, reports that hijackers might have been aboard two more jets than the four crashed focused on American Airlines Flight 43, which made an emergency landing at the airport on Sept. 11. That flight originated at Newark and was bound for Los Angeles.

        Neither Agent Lampinski nor any of the other agencies involved would say why raids were conducted at apartments at 2600-2900 Peoples Court in Burlington and the Tamarac Apartments on Weaver Road in Florence.

        Grant County Sheriff Randy Middleton said Friday night that a couple from Crittenden is also under scrutiny by federal authorities, but he was unaware if they also were a target of Friday's searches.

        Two men said they were jailed for about eight hours Friday, asked to show identification and released without being questioned.

        “I am not an extremist. I had nothing to do with what happened,” said Mohamed Selem Ould Yeslem, 32, a restaurant worker from Mauritania, in North Africa, who works at the airport.

        El Houssein Ould Mohamed Saleh, also from Mauritania, said he was stopped by police in a parking lot and handcuffed.

        “I think people are worried when they see people that look like Arabs,” said the unemployed 32-year-old. “If it just happens one time, it's not bad, but if it keeps on happening, I wouldn't want to stay here.”

        Residents at a third complex — Parkland Apartments in Florence — also reported seeing police activity Friday afternoon.

        Agents spent much of Friday interviewing and then taking into custody people at Tamarac and Peoples Court apartments, said residents at both locations.

        The Peoples Court raid may have broken up an early afternoon Muslim prayer service at one of the apartments, said David Caudill, 22, a bricklayer who used to live there and has recently returned to stay with a friend.

        “They pray in there all the time,” Mr. Caudill said. “I used to see them through the window. They wore white robes and had their heads wrapped.”

        Participating with the FBI agents from Kentucky and Cincinnati were the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Secret Service, the Boone County Sheriff's Department, the Florence Police Department and the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force.

        Agent Lampinski did say the agents executed six search warrants — four federal and two state — but that the warrants have been sealed.

        U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Gregory Wehrman said federal authorities interrupted his regularly scheduled arraignments Friday, seeking a search warrant.

        “The FBI came to me through the U.S. attorney's office,” Judge Wehrman said. “I can't comment on any of it. Everything is under seal at this point.”

        Judge Wehrman would not confirm or deny whether the request was related to the federal investigation on terrorism.

        Judge Wehrman would not elaborate on the scope of the search, items sought by federal investigators, or the reason for sealing the paperwork.

        In his statement, Agent Lampinski said people in this area are not in danger.

        “Nothing that was developed today in any way should suggest any concern for the persons living in the Northern Kentucky or Cincinnati, Ohio, area,” he said.

        But that did little to calm people like Mary Fanning, 42, who lives next to the Tamarac Apartment building that agents descended on Friday.

        “They say you can live right next door to somebody and not know if they are involved in something like this,” she said. “Well, I guess that's right, because that's what happened right here.”

        In both complexes residents said several people apparently from the Middle East have lived in various apartments for up to two years. They mostly kept to themselves, neighbors said, keeping an especially low profile since the Sept. 11 attacks.

        “They come in all the time to buy milk, produce, whatever,” said Chuck Styer, 42, who owns an Ameristop convenience store next to Peoples Court.

        “They don't say much,” he said. “I think the only English they know is "Marlboro Lights'”.

        According to residents on Peoples Court, officers from the Boone County Sheriff's Department and possibly federal agents showed up Thursday evening at the complex, a collection of three-story buildings just east of Burlington.

        The officers and agents looked through records in the complex office and then returned Friday between 10 and 11 a.m. with white vans.

        There were no reports of struggles. After questioning people, showing them some kind of pictures and asking for proof of citizenship and identification, officers herded as many as 15 people into vans and drove off.

        The FBI would not say where they were taken, but officers on the scene told residents they might have gone to FBI offices in Louisville or Cincinnati, or possibly to a federal detention facility in Lexington.

        Residents said some of people taken into custody may have worked at area restaurants. Others did not appear to have jobs.

        Two cars owned by some of the men detained had Jefferson County license plates. One had a book and cassette tapes with Arabic writing. Another had a thesaurus, a brochure from Paramount's Kings Island, a Lexington apartment guide and what appeared to be an assignment from a temporary employment agency for a $7 an hour job as a packer and assembler that was scheduled to start Sept. 7.

       Enquirer reporters Jane Prendergast and Terry Flynn and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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