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Is Michigan a Terror Stronghold?

A police report obtained by Newsweek calls Detroit “a lucrative recruiting area and potential support base for international groups.” A Web exclusive by Keith Naughton
/ Source: Newsweek Web Exclusive

With one of the largest populations of Arabs outside the Middle East, Detroit and its surrounding suburbs have become fertile ground for terrorism fund-raising and recruiting. “The Detroit/Dearborn area is a major financial support center for many Mideast terrorist groups,” according to a Michigan State Police report obtained by NEWSWEEK. “Southeast Michigan is known as a lucrative recruiting area and potential support base for international terrorist groups. It is also conceivable that ‘sleeper cells’ may be located in that area of the state.”

THE MICHIGAN STATE POLICE submitted the “Three-Year Statewide Domestic Preparedness Strategy” report to the U.S. Justice Department earlier this month, to help support a request for federal funds to fight terrorism in Michigan. A police spokesman says the report “was not intended for public distribution.”

Almost every major terrorist organization has operatives in Michigan, according to the report. Citing information received from the Detroit office of the FBI, the report says “most of the 28 international terrorist groups recently identified by the State Department… are represented in Michigan. Examples include such well-known terrorist organizations as Hizballah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Egyptian Brotherhood, Al-Gama’at, Al-Islamiyya, and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization—Al Qaeda.” The Detroit office of the FBI declines to comment on the report, which it has not yet reviewed, says a spokeswoman.

Those groups, along with domestic “patriot groups” in Michigan, combine to create 374 “potential-threat elements” statewide, the report says. A State Police spokesman describes such elements as individuals or groups who could engage in acts of terror. ”

To raise money for international terrorist groups overseas, operatives in Michigan “commit criminal acts” the report says. It cites two arrests made last year in Detroit, which had direct links to international terrorist groups. “In November, 2000, two individuals were arrested in Detroit by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force for smuggling weapons and military equipment to Lebanon. Evidence existed that linked the individuals to the terrorist group Hizballah,” according to the report.

On Sept. 17, the FBI raided a house in a rundown neighborhood in Southwest Detroit looking for a suspected associate of Osama bin Laden. Instead, they found three men and a trove of forged documents, including visas, a passport and 28 passport-sized photos. They also found a day planner with Arabic notations about the “American air base in Turkey,” the “American foreign minister” and the “Alia Airport” in Jordan. The day planner also contained drawings of an airport believed to be the U.S. military base in southern Turkey that patrols the no-fly zone in Iraq.

The man the feds were looking for in Detroit, Nabil al-Marabh, was arrested near Chicago a few days later and is now in federal custody in New York. According to published reports, Al-Marabh has been identified as an associate of bin Laden by Raed Hijazi, who is on trial in Jordan for the foiled plot to blow up tourist sites on the eve of the Millennium. Al-Marabh, a former Boston cab driver born in Kuwait, is suspected of knowing two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

In Detroit, three men are facing federal fraud charges in connection with the forged documents found in the Detroit raid. Two of the men, Karim Koubriti, 23, and Amed Hannan, 33, both Moroccan, have been in federal custody since the raid. Both formerly worked for at Detroit Metropolitan Airport as dishwashers for an airline catering service, before quitting in June to take truck-driving lessons. A third suspect, Youssef Hmimssa, was arrested on Sept. 28 in Iowa. He pled not guilty to federal fraud charges in Detroit on Oct. 17. Authorities say Hmimssa’s photo appeared on a forged passport found in the raid of the Detroit house. FBI sources say Hmimssa is believed to have traveled the world using several aliases.

© 2003 Newsweek, Inc.