updated 1/25/2005 5:45:04 PM ET 2005-01-25T22:45:04

The FBI said Tuesday that the possible terrorist plot reported against Boston by a tipster last week was a false alarm. A law enforcement official in Mexico said that a suspected smuggler made the story up to get back at people who failed to pay him.

“There were in fact no terrorist plans or activity under way,” an FBI statement said. “Because the criminal investigation is ongoing, no further details can be provided at this time.”

Jose Ernesto Beltran Quinones, one of 16 people sought for questioning about the alleged terror plot, was detained over the weekend in Mexicali, a Mexican border town near San Diego. His son, also named Jose, was detained Monday.

According to a law enforcement official there, the two men were involved in smuggling Chinese migrants across the border and told investigators that smugglers had squabbled over a deal, and that one had anonymously called in the false tip to U.S. authorities as revenge. The source, who asked not to be named, did not say which smuggler had made the call.

The official from the Baja California Attorney General’s Office said the men told investigators the claim was nothing more than a tall tale.

The two were later released; relatives at their houses told reporters Tuesday that they were not at home.

The FBI statement did not say whether Quinones and his son had provided the information that allowed the threat to be ruled out, but the bureau did thank Mexican law enforcement agencies for their help.

Almost immediately, officials stressed that they doubted the credibility of the terror tip.

The tipster claimed members of the group, including Chinese and Iraqi immigrants, had talked about material supposedly called “nuclear oxide” that would follow them from Mexico to Boston. The implication was that the group was plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” that spews hazardous material and can sicken or kill people.

Despite some skepticism about the legitimacy of the tip, authorities stepped up security, and Gov. Mitt Romney skipped President Bush’s inauguration in Washington to return to Boston. Federal authorities released the names and photos of four Chinese nationals being sought for questioning, and a few days later determined that one of them had been in federal custody for more than two months and had no terrorist connections.

“While we questioned the credibility of the source information from the very beginning, we were determined to run this out, as we always do, to ensure there was no threat,” Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and Boston FBI special agent in charge Kenneth Kaiser said in a statement.

Romney’s office referred calls to the state’s Public Safety Office. Katie Ford, an agency spokeswoman, said authorities were concerned that unfounded terror alerts would make it look like investigators were “crying wolf.”

“We are keenly aware that in situations like this, government and the media are in a no-win situation,” she said. “We don’t want to desensitize the public to potential terror attacks.”

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