Plane forced down with suspicious of chinese dirty bomb
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Plane Forced to Land; Dirty Bomb Link Investigated
LAST UPDATE: 1/25/2005 9:59:13 AM
Posted By: Walker Robinson
Department of Homeland Security officials forced a small plane carrying four apparently illegal Chinese immigrants and a pilot identified as a Mexican national to land at an airport in San Antonio Monday night, officials said today. The immigrants were being held at Stinson Airfield shortly after federal agents forced their plane down.
Authorities are trying to determine if the four pasengers on board the Cessna 172-P, two men and two women, are linked to a report that several Chinese nationals were attempting to set off a 'dirty bomb' in the Boston area.
Online records of the Federal Aviation Administration show the 20-year-old plane is co-owned by Afzal Hameed of Dover, Del. The other co-owner is listed as Alyce S. Taylor, but no address is given for her. The FAA records state that the plane's last three-year registration was filed in 1999, and that the agency received no response in 2002 after mailing new registration forms to Hameed.
San Antonio Police surrounded the airport close to 9 p.m. Monday after receiving a call for help from the Department of Homeland Security, officials said. The single-engine plane was intercepted after officials said it was flying in American airspace illegally.
"Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials will hold these people and will determine what their status will be," San Antonio police Captain Jeff Humphrey told 1200 WOAI news.
Humphrey said it appears to be an 'alleged smuggling case.'
Officials say the pilot of the plane told investigators that he had taken off from 'south of the border,' but Humphrey said he could not say any more. He said he didn't know where they were heading.
A federal government source who asked not to be identified told 1200 WOAI news a preliminary search of the terrorist data base did not indicate that any of the four passengers were on it.
Humphrey said its undetermined right now whether the four people on board were related to the hint of a dirty bomb plot' in Boston.
"I've been looking at the pictures (of the Boston suspects) on the TV like everybody else, and I did not recognize anything that would make me think that there was a connection," Humphrey said.
He said Department of Homeland Security was also questioning the pilot. No word on his identity.
A man suspected of telling authorities about the possible terror threat in Boston has been detained in a Mexican border town and was being questioned about last week's tip and his motivation for calling it in, FBI officials said. Jose Ernesto Beltran Quinones was taken into custody Monday in Mexicali by Mexican state judicial police, Dan Dzwilewski, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Diego division, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Quinones, one of the 16 people sought for questioning last week about the alleged terror plot, was being questioned on behalf of the FBI, special agent Kiffa Shirley told The Associated Press.
"The first area of concern for the FBI is to resolve any pending national security threat issues, and that issue being the statement that was made that nuclear material was being brought into the United States," Dzwilewski said. "We're working with Mexican authorities trying to resolve that question."
Shirley said late Monday he did not know Quinones' nationality, age or occupation, or where he was being questioned.
Officials have stressed since news of the tip first broke that they doubted the credibility of the terror claims. A leading theory was that a smuggler tipped authorities to a false terror plot to exact revenge on a group of Chinese immigrants, perhaps because members failed to pay.
The tipster claimed that members of the group 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.
No evidence has been found for such a plot. Still, authorities stepped up security in Boston, and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney skipped President Bush's inauguration in Washington.
Dzwilewski said the United States would like to extradite Quinones, who Shirley said was being interviewed as part of a joint investigation by the FBI and Mexican authorities.
"We're so pleased with the extraordinary cooperation of Mexican authorities," Shirley said.
Over the weekend, the FBI said another person who had been wanted for questioning in relation to the alleged plot had been in federal custody for more than two months and has no terrorist connections. She was identified as Mei Xia Dong, 21, of China.
For the latest on this developing story, tune now to NewsRadio 1200 WOAI and watch News 4 WOAI for the complete story.