Additional Links in Border Arrests
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) _ Federal officials say cellular telephone records link a woman arrested last month in Vermont to two Algerians suspected of trying to smuggle explosives into the United States.
In court documents filed Wednesday, federal prosecutors for the first time tied Canadian Lucia Garofalo with Algerians Abdel Ghani and Ahmed Ressam.
Their arrests stirred fears of terrorist attacks over the holiday season. Ressam had a one-night reservation at a motel near Seattle’s Space Needle, which was cited as one reason for the cancellation of the New Year’s bash there.
Ms. Garofalo was arrested trying to cross the border at Beecher Falls, Vt., on Dec. 19. Five days earlier, Ressam was arrested in Washington state allegedly trying to carry bomb materials into the United States. And on Dec. 30, Ghani was arrested in New York City and accused of attempting to meet up with Ressam.
``There is a close and concerning link between Ms. Garofalo and the investigations that are under way in New York and Seattle,″ Assistant U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin said.
Attorneys for Ms. Garofalo, a 35-year-old mother of three, have disputed the government’s allegations and say they do not prove she was part of a conspiracy.
Magistrate Judge Jerome Niedermeier agreed to continue holding Ms. Garofalo without bail until her trial on immigration violations, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 14.
The alleged telephone links are circuitous, prosecutors said. But they said that was how the terrorist organization that Ghani and Ressam belonged to operated. Previously, Ressam and Ghani have been linked to the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, known by its French acronym GIA.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Kirby said there were a series of telephone calls between people who have ties to Ressam and Ms. Garofalo last month around the time of both their arrests.
``The timing of the link is remarkable in that it occurs during the December period when the defendant and Ressam were committing their crimes,″ Kirby wrote.
Ressam, who was arrested at Port Angeles, Wash., has pleaded innocent to five charges related to bomb-making. Ghani, 31, was charged with being Ressam’s accomplice.
The individual common to most of the players was a man named Raja Aslam, prosecutors said. A telephone number registered to Aslam allegedly was in Ms. Garofalo’s pocket when she was arrested.
``Records show that on Dec. 14, 1999, the date Ressam tried to bring explosives into the United States, Garofalo called this cell phone,″ according to court records.
Ms. Garofalo’s attorney, Maryanne Kampmann, said that did not prove Ms. Garofalo was part of a conspiracy. She said Ms. Garofalo did not know who made the call.
Ms. Garofalo told Kampmann someone else had used her phone, although Coffin said that did not explain the telephone number in Garofalo’s pocket.
``It may be the gentleman who used the phone left the scrap of paper in her car. We are talking one phone call. There is no other contact,″ Kampmann said.
Additional calls were placed from a number assigned to Aslam to one that prosecutors said was assigned to Abdel Ghani and to the cell phone belonging to an unidentified person.
``Records disclose that over the period Dec. 11 to 19, this latter (person) called a number belonging to Abdel Ghani over 20 times, including six times on Dec. 19, the day that Garofalo was arrested,″ Kirby wrote.
Other telephone records showed contacts between a cell phone belonging to Aslam to a cell phone ``somewhere in Vermont during the early morning hours of Dec. 15, 1999.″
Prosecutors have alleged that Ms. Garofalo was turned back on that date when she tried to cross the border at Pittsburg, N.H. They allege that she later crossed the border successfully but illegally. On a third attempt, they said, she was arrested.
Aslam, a Pakistani taxi driver who lives in New York City, denied knowing Ms. Garofalo, Ghani or Ressam. He speculated that the telephone links could have developed from a former roommate’s plan to be smuggled back into the United States from Canada.
``I’m a hard-working man with no links to terrorists,″ Aslam said in today’s New York Times. ``I’m very upset. I don’t like people who blow up buildings.″
An FBI spokesman, Joseph Valiquette, told the newspaper that Aslam has not been charged with any crime.
Another Algerian linked to Ghani was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Seattle. Abdel Hakim Tizegha, 29, was charged with illegally re-entering the United States and eluding border officers at the Canadian border at Blaine, about 100 miles north of Seattle.
Tizegha was arrested Dec. 24 and had been held without bond. No link has been made in court between Tizegha and Ressam, but newspaper reports have said Tizegha and Ghani are longtime friends.