KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Shouting “Long Live Osama!” and “Death to America!” thousands of protesters burned an effigy of President Bush yesterday, then stormed the abandoned U.S. Embassy in the Afghan capital, torching old cars and a guardhouse and tearing down the U.S. seal above the entrance.
In the United States, five Detroit-area residents were among 10 Middle Eastern men arrested yesterday on charges of fraudulently obtaining licenses to haul hazardous cargo.
Four other Michigan residents also were accused of receiving Pennsylvania hazardous-materials hauling licenses without qualifying for them, and were being sought, federal authorities said.
The arrests followed FBI warnings that chemical or biological weapons might be used in the next strike by terrorists. But John Bell Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI”s Detroit office, said in a statement that there was “no justification” for linking any of the men arrested in Michigan to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Also yesterday, U.S. and Pakistani officials ended two days of talks in “complete unanimity” on ways to combat terrorism and Osama bin Laden”s terrorist network in Afghanistan, a Pakistani general said. No details of the agreement were announced, but Gen. Rashid Qureshi, spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf, said there was “no difference of opinion between Pakistan and America on the issue of combating terrorism.”
In northern Afghanistan, where an opposition alliance is fighting troops of the hard-line Taliban government, heavy new fighting was reported.
Radio Kabul quoted unidentified government officials as saying Taliban forces pushed back opposition troops in the Razi district of Badghis province in northwestern Afghanistan. The officials said opposition fighters were killed, without providing an exact number, and weapons were confiscated. An opposition commander, Abdul Rashid Dostum, confirmed the report.
The Taliban”s leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, appealed to Afghans who have fled the capital, Kabul, to come home. Even if the city is attacked, they will be safe, he said in a statement faxed to news organizations in neighboring Pakistan.
The demonstration at the U.S. Embassy, organized by students at Kabul University, was the largest anti-American protest in Kabul since the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The United States suspects bin Laden orchestrated the attacks and has ordered the Taliban who have been sheltering him for five years to turn him over or face punishment.
The old embassy compound was guarded by a few Afghan security guards who were no match for the crowd. The last U.S. diplomats left the embassy in January 1989 just ahead of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Smoke billowed into the sky after about five vehicles were set afire in the embassy compound, and several men used hammers to remove the large circular U.S. seal above the front entrance. Taliban authorities eventually dispersed the protesters and extinguished the fires.
“It”s just another sign of the fact that this is serious,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said of the attack on the embassy. “It doesn”t change anything about what the president has said or what the mission of the United States will be.”
The five men arrested in Michigan were being held on charges of conspiracy to violate federal identity theft laws, the Detroit office of the FBI said in a statement.
Hussain Al-Obaidi of Detroit appeared before a federal magistrate yesterday, said Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney”s Office in Detroit.
Also arrested were Samir Al Mazaal and Akeel Al-Aboudy, both of Detroit and Hatef Al-Atabi and Arkan Alandon, both of Dearborn, the FBI said.
Some of those arrested had obtained false permits in Pittsburgh, where a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation driver”s license examiner provided permits to people who didn”t take required tests, had suspended licenses or were otherwise not eligible, according to court records.
In court papers, the FBI said a Middle Eastern man named Abdul Mohamman, known as “Ben,” acted as a middleman in the scheme, bringing in as many as 30 drivers who fraudulently obtained commercial licenses to carry hazardous materials. The FBI quoted the examiner, identified in the affidavit only as CW-1, as saying that he was introduced to “Ben” about six years ago.
The examiner told the FBI he “issued HAZMAT endorsements to these individuals at Ben”s instruction without conducting the required test.”
“Ben paid between $50 and $100 per individual by placing the money in “brand-new” bills under CW-1″s desk calendar,” said the FBI affidavit.
The concern about licenses to haul chemicals first surfaced last week when authorities arrested Nabil Al-Marabh, a former Boston cab driver taken into custody in Chicago last week. Al-Marabh holds a commercial driver”s license and is certified to transport hazardous materials, records show.
In El Salvador, national police director Mauricio Sandoval said the FBI has detained a Salvadoran man, Luis Martinez-Flores, who allegedly helped the suspected terrorists obtain false identification cards. Martinez-Flores “may have moved” around “with the terrorists in New York, Boston or Florida,” Sandoval told a news conference.
The name Luis Martinez-Flores turned up last week on a list of 21 people whose financial records the FBI had asked all U.S. banks to check. The 19 suspected hijackers were on the list, along with Martinez-Flores and one other person.
Martinez-Flores is apparently being held by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Virginia as an illegal immigrant, Sandoval said.
In Virginia, the government increased its pressure on a former airline food worker whose name and phone number were found in a car registered to one of the terrorist hijackers, persuading a federal court to detain him without bail.
Prosecutors described Mohamed Abdi of Virginia as an essential witness and said “he may be more.” Abdi”s lawyer insisted he knew nothing about the Sept. 11 attacks.
Another man, Herbert Villalobos, charged with helping a hijacker get a photo identification card, was also denied bail by a federal magistrate in Alexandria, Va., as prosecutors sought to keep possible suspects jailed until it could be determined whether they were tied to the attacks.
Meanwhile, a federal prosecutor in New York said Al-Badr Al-Hazmi, a San Antonio radiologist detained for close to two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks and released Tuesday, never was a subject of the investigation.