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Archive for January 13th, 2011

Guyanese National Gets 15 Years in Plot to Blow Up JFK Airport

jfk airport

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A Guyanese national was sentenced Thursday in Brooklyn federal court to 15 years in prison for his role in an international plot to blow up fuel lines and fuel tanks under JFK Airport in Queens, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced.

Authorities charged that that Abdel Nur provided material support to the plot by trying to locate al Qaeda explosives expert Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah, and by introducing the plotters and presenting the plot to Yasin Abu Bakr, the notorious leader of the Trinidadian militant group Jamaat Al Muslimeen, who had been involved in terrorist attacks aimed at overthrowing the government of Trinidad and Tobago.

On June 29, he pleaded guilty.

Subsequently, a federal jury convicted Abdul Kadir and Russell Defreitas in the plot. In December, Kadir was sentenced to life in prison. Defreitas is set to be sentenced on Feb. 17.  A fourth person charged in the plot, Kareem Ibrahim, still faces trial.

Authorities say the plotters hoped the explosion and damage would dwarf the 9/11 attack.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Fed Agents Find LAX Airport Can be a Zoo — Literally

A rhesus monkey like one smuggled in LAX/istock photo

By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

On any given day, the sprawling Los Angeles International Airport known as LAX can be a zoo, locked in a frenetic pace, passengers coming and going. And then on certain days, it really, really is a zoo.

Over the past few years alone, federal law enforcement authorities have nabbed people trying to illegally smuggle in everything from lizards to songbirds. They’ve used money belts and snack boxes. One woman faked a pregnancy to smuggle a pet monkey from Thailand.

The latest incident came Friday when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service busted two Japanese men at LAX. The suspects allegedly hid 55 live turtles and tortoises in snack-food boxes packed in luggage. The turtles were all protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.

Authorities charged Atsushi Yamagami, 39, and Norihide Ushirozako, 49, of Osaka, Japan, with illegally importing wildlife into the U.S. and violating the Endangered Species Act. The two men have been detained pending a Jan. 31 arraignment.

“The plundering and smuggling of rare plants and animals to satisfy the desires of hobbyists is not only shameful, in some circumstances it can pose a threat to public safety and the environment,” Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles, said in a statement following the bust.

Los Angeles isn’t the only airport that has the problem with the illegal smuggling of animals, a worldwide trade estimated to generate up to $10 billion a year in revenue, a close second or third to illegal drugs, says Ed Newcomer, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Los Angeles. In the U.S., other key airports with animal smuggling problems include Miami, New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Still, over the years, some of the higher-profile cases have come out LAX.

Newcomer says that because of the eclectic culture in Los Angeles, there seems to be a diverse selection of animals that are smuggled: wild reptiles from Asia, illegal caviar or fish eggs from Eastern Europe, and parrots from South America and Mexico.

“And it all ends up here for sale in LA,” he said, adding that some wealthy people like to collect rare animals and are willing to pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for them.

Is the problem growing?

“It’s hard to estimate what you don’t know,” said Newcomer, who added that his agency makes several cases a year at LAX. “But I think it’s growing. The Internet allows people to connect more easily.”

Authorities say people must declare items at the port of first arrival in the U.S. and file a Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish and Wildlife form. And they can’t sell animals on the endangered species list.

Turtles seized at LAX Airport on Friday/gov photo

One of the more unusual cases at LAX came on Dec. 26, 2007, when a Washington state woman drugged a rhesus monkey and transported it by plane from Thailand to LAX. Gypsy Lawson, 28, concealed the animal next to her belly, using a pad to make it appear she was pregnant. Newcomer said she actually made it out of the airport, but she bragged openly about it to a store clerk, who reported her. Subsequently, authorities ended up busting her and she was convicted in 2008 of violating wildlife laws.

In November 2009, a man named Michael Plank, who was passing through customs at LAX after arriving from Australia, was stopped trying to smuggle two geckos, two monitor lizards and 11 skinks in a money belt wrapped around his chest, authorities said. The animals were reportedly valued at $8,500.

The same year, a California man named Song Dong was arrested at LAX after customs agents said they found more than a dozen birds underneath his clothing after arriving from Vietnam. Authorities reported that he had bird feathers and droppings on his socks.

In the latest case involving the turtles and tortoises, Yamagami and Ushirozako traveled from Osaka to LAX on Jan. 7, according to an affidavit by Paul Montuori, an agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A Customs and Border Patrol officer conducted a search of Ushirozako’s suitcase and found the turtles in snack boxes, authorities say. The types of turtles included fly rivers, Chinese big heads, flapshells, albino Chinese softshells and Malayan snail-eating turtles.

Montuori wrote in the affidavit that Yamagami, through a translator, admitted the hidden turtles belonged to him and that he paid Ushirozako to carry them live. He said that on eight prior occasions either he or someone else traveled to the U.S. and concealed the turtles and tortoises in suitcases without declaring them, and sold them to customers in the U.S.

He would then “purchase turtles and tortoises in the United States that were unavailable in Japan,” the affidavit said.

Ushirozako told authorities he had smuggled turtles into the U.S. on around five previous occasions, according to the affidavit.

Newcomer, who helped work on the case, said smuggling can be very harmful to the animals, particularly for types such as birds.

“Our intelligence tells us people who smuggle live birds from South America or Mexico count on a 50 percent fatality rate during travel. So they bring in twice as many as they want to sell.”

San Diego Fed Judge Larry Burns Assigned to Az Shooting Case

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

After all the Arizona federal judges recused themselves in presiding over the trial of mass-shooter Jared Loughner, the bench turned to San Diego.

U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns, a 2003 appointee of President George W. Bush, has been appointed to preside over the trial, the Arizona Republic reported. Of course, it’s unclear with all the eye witnesses whether the case will ever go to trial.

The paper also reported that Judge Roslyn O. Silver will replace John Roll as chief judge of Arizona’s U.S. District Courts. Roll was one of six people killed in the shooting.

Feds Prepare for Trial of Woman Accused of Killing Pitts. FBI Agent Sam Hicks

Slain FBI Agent Sam Hicks/fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The feds are gearing up for the trial of a woman accused of killing Pittsburgh FBI agent Sam Hicks in 2008.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry has ordered the federal jury administrator to summon 350 people to serve as the jury pool for the March 7 trial. The potential jurors will report to the courthouse on Feb. 14 for preliminary instructions.

Christina Korbe is charged with shooting Hicks to death. Hicks and other agents had come to the house to serve an arrest warrant for Korbe’s husband. She opened fire, killing Hicks. Her husband Robert Korbe has been sentenced to 25 years  in prison on drug and other charges.

Authorities said when the agents came to the home, Robert  Korbe ran in the basement to get rid of cocaine and his wife Christina opened fire from upstairs.

In November 2009, the Baltimore FBI building was named after Hicks, who had been a Baltimore cop before joining the FBI.

Detained Teen Says FBI Pressed Him During Interrogation in Kuwait

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — A controversy is surfacing over the questioning of an American teen in Kuwait who is on the no-fly list.

The New York Times reports that the teen Gulet Mohamed says he was detained in Kuwait and “underwent a heated interrogation by F.B.I. agents for several hours on Wednesday, in a case that has renewed debate over the Obama administration’s expansion of the no-fly list after the attempted bombing of a passenger plane bound for Detroit in 2009.”

The New York Times wrote: “The interrogation grew steadily more hostile when the agents pressed the teenager, Gulet Mohamed, on his travels to Yemen and Somalia and began calling him an ”embarrassment to his country,” accusing him of lying about his contacts with militants overseas, he said.”

The Times reported that the teen says agents began yelling the name of the radical cleric”Anwar al-Awlaki”, who is wanted by the U.S. Kuwaiti officials then asked that the interrogation end.

The teen, who spoke to the Times by phone from a Kuwait deportation facility, claims the FBI continued to question him even after he asked to be represented by a lawyer.

”They wanted me to lie about myself, and pushed me to lie about things I had done,” he said, according to the Times.

The FBI declined comment, the Times reported.

John Dowdy Jr. Named Court Appointed U.S. Atty in Mississippi

John Dowdy/doj photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

John M. Dowdy Jr., who has been the acting first assistant U.S. Attorney for the past year, is now the court-appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced.

He replaces Donald R. Burkhalter, who retired this month.

Dowdy was appointed by Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. Dowdy, a veteran federal prosecutor who has been with the office since 1988, had previously served as chief of the criminal division since 2004. He will likely serve as U.S. Attorney until president Obama appoints someone to the post.