Federal agents are investigating whether there is a link between an Algerian man charged with immigration violations yesterday and a bomb plot apparently foiled last month in Washington state by the FBI and immigration officials, U.S. officials said last night.
Abdel Hakim Tizegha, who was arrested on Dec. 24 and charged in federal court in Seattle yesterday, traveled between Washington state and Canada last month. He entered the United States from Canada, according to the FBI, by sneaking through the woods and crossing the border on foot around Nov. 30.
It is not clear what role, if any, Tizegha had in a plot to carry out terrorist attacks related to millennial celebrations in the United States. While he knew others who allegedly were part of a terrorist scheme that revolved around an organization known as the Armed Islamic Group, his relationship to that group and to any plot has not been determined, officials said.
In mid-December, another Algerian, Ahmed Ressam, was arrested with a car full of powerful explosives and timing devices while traveling from Canada into Washington state. Last week, Abdel Ghani, an Algerian with links to the terrorist group, was arrested in Brooklyn. Ghani had traveled to Seattle to meet Ressam, but never made contact after Ressam was arrested and their plans to carry out a bombing were stymied, according to U.S. officials.
Officials know that Tizegha was a friend of Ghani and had contact with Ressam. Detaining him on immigration charges will enable U.S. officials to question Tizegha further about the alleged plots.
The court filing yesterday said Tizegha unsuccessfully attempted to flee when he was arrested on Christmas Eve in Seattle. At the time, he already was facing deportation charges for earlier immigration violations. In 1993, the complaint alleged, Tizegha entered the United States illegally as a stowaway on a ship and then applied for political asylum in Boston. His request was reviewed and denied and ultimately, he was ordered to leave the U.S. last summer, which he did.
Since his Dec. 24 arrest, Tizegha called his roommate from the INS detention facility and asked him to destroy a bus ticket showing he had gone from Bellingham, Wash., to Seattle. The roommate told the FBI that he complied with the request to destroy the ticket.
Last week, U.S. law enforcement officials arrested people in New York and Boston and questioned dozens of others nationwide in an effort to disrupt a possible network of Algerians suspected of planning terrorist attacks. In addition, officials disclosed that a Canadian woman arrested last month trying to cross the border into Vermont, Ressam and the Algerian arrested last week in Brooklyn were all linked to the same terrorist organization.
The group had false passports, aliases and a plan to leave a rented car filled with explosives at a drop-off point in Seattle, where another member of the network would take charge of the vehicle, officials allege. FBI officials said they had not identified any specific U.S. city or site that was to have been the focus of the attack.
Also yesterday, another suspect was arrested in New York, according to a U.S. official. The man was linked to the bomb smuggling scheme and appeared in Manhattan federal court during a secret proceeding in which papers were filed under seal, the Associated Press reported.