A man who authorities believe may have been part of an al-Qaida “sleeper cell” obtained a license to haul hazardous materials months after he was identified as a suspected terrorist by the FBI, officials said.
The FBI identified Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi as a suspected terrorist before the attacks of 2001, the Star Tribune reported in Wednesday’s editions, citing unidentified law enforcement officials.
Yet Minnesota Department of Public Safety officials said they did not know that Elzahabi was suspected of having al-Qaida connections when he applied in early 2002 for a commercial license to drive a school bus and haul hazardous materials.
Elzahabi, 41, was charged Friday with lying to federal authorities about helping ship sophisticated portable field radios to Pakistan from 1995-97 and lying about helping a man, later convicted in Jordan as a terrorist, obtain a driver’s license in Massachusetts.
Before Elzahabi got the commercial driver’s license in early 2002, the FBI ran his name through a database and cleared him, Pat McCormack, interim director of the state Public Safety Department’s Division of Driver and Vehicle Licensing, told the newspaper in Wednesday’s editions.
As of Tuesday, his driver’s license was still valid for the transport of toxic materials, the Star Tribune reported. McCormack said Elzahabi’s school bus driver’s license was canceled in February. He did not explain why.
Public Safety Department spokesman Kevin Smith declined to discuss the Elzahabi case, but said if a person named on a terrorism watch list applied for a similar license today, his or her name would show up in the computer system.
U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Tom Heffelfinger told the newspaper he would not comment on the Elzahabi case beyond the criminal complaint.
Minneapolis FBI spokesman Paul McCabe declined to comment to the Associated Press on Wednesday, citing the bureau’s prohibition against commenting on pending investigations.