A man carrying two bottles of flammable liquid, 10 bags of white powder, electronic devices and identification with two different names was arrested Wednesday night after he fled from U.S. customs officials as he tried to cross the border from Canada at Port Angeles, Wash., law enforcement officials said.
The French-speaking man arrived by ferry from Victoria, British Columbia, around 6 p.m. in a rented Chrysler, and a customs officer asking routine questions became suspicious because the man appeared nervous. The man was asked to step out of his car, and he tried to flee on foot. Customs officers caught him after a short chase.
They discovered he was bringing with him the flammable liquid, 120 pounds of a white powder, 15 pounds of a crystalline powder, and boxes containing circuit boards connected to a Casio watch and a nine-volt battery, law enforcement officials said. The powder was not immediately identified, but officials said drug-sniffing dogs showed no interest in it, adding to concern that the material might be explosive.
Federal officials suspect the man was part of a larger organization, and accomplices may have entered the United States before he was apprehended, the Seattle Times reported.
The incident is certain to fuel anxiety among U.S. law enforcement officials already on alert for potential terrorist actions connected either to the Year 2000 celebrations or to the continuing U.S. effort against Osama bin Laden, an exiled Saudi millionaire accused of waging a terrorist campaign against Americans.
However, U.S. law enforcement officials said yesterday they were still unsure of the man's identity and whether he came from Canada, a French-speaking part of the Middle East or some other part of the French-speaking world. He was carrying two different forms of identification: a Canadian passport with the name Benni Norris and a driver's license with the name Mario Roig. They had the same photograph, officials said.
Canadian authorities believed the passport was faked and that the man was of Algerian descent, Reuters reported. He was charged by the U.S. Customs Service with misrepresentation and failure to be inspected. The FBI has not yet filed any charges.
Law enforcement officials were trying to determine whether the man had any accomplices. The car had been rented in Vancouver, law enforcement officials said, and the man had said he would be staying at a hotel in Seattle.