EAST LANSING (AP) Michigan State Police confirmed yesterday that many terrorist groups including Osama bin Laden”s al-Qaida network have members and major financial supporters in the state.
But Col. Michael Robinson, head of the state police, urged people not to be alarmed by the information, saying Michigan faces no more danger than any other state.
“We have a great number of Arabs and Muslims in the state of Michigan who are law-abiding citizens that deserve our protection,” Robinson said. “Reports such as this sometimes serve to inflame tensions.”
The information was inadvertently released last week when police presented a report on Michigan”s preparedness to state lawmakers. The report was prepared for the U.S. Department of Justice and won federal approval last week.
Robinson said he doesn”t know how Michigan compares to other states because most haven”t turned in their reports yet. Justice Department spokeswoman Glenda Kendrick wouldn”t say how Michigan compares.
Kendrick said yesterday that Utah, Florida, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina also have had their reports approved. Reports for Minnesota and Wyoming were being reviewed, she said.
State police wouldn”t release copies of the report, but The Associated Press obtained an executive summary from another source.
The report identifies 374 “potential threat elements” in Michigan, a figure that includes individuals and groups. It says the threats include Middle Eastern terrorist groups as well as domestic hate groups.
“It also includes the guy that makes threats to his county commissioner because he doesn”t like to pay taxes,” Robinson said.
Robinson said local law enforcement identified those they considered “threat elements.” The Michigan State Police is reviewing that list now, he said. All 83 counties were required to submit at least one threat element, police spokesman Mike Prince said.
The report, a three-year plan for combating terrorism and other threats, was one of the first to win the approval of the Justice Department. Michigan expects to get around $6 million for training and equipment because of that approval.
The report says “the Detroit/Dearborn area is a major financial support center for many Mid East terrorist groups,” adding that it is “conceivable that “sleeper cells” may be located in this area.”
The report does not give any specific examples of financial supporters and Robinson did not elaborate. But it cites the FBI”s November 2000 arrest of two brothers from Dearborn, Ali and Mike Boumelhem, on charges of smuggling weapons and military equipment to Lebanon.
“Evidence existed that linked the individuals to the terrorist group Hizballah,” according to the report.
A U.S. District Court jury on Sept. 10 convicted Ali Boumelhem, 36, of five counts of being a felon in possession of ammunition, one count of conspiracy to ship firearms and ammunition in foreign commerce and one related conspiracy count, said Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney”s Office in Detroit.
Boumelhem was being held without bond pending a Dec. 20 hearing at which he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on each count, Balaya said.
The jury acquitted Mike Boumelhem of the same conspiracy charges, she said.
Robinson said the information in the report was being compiled before the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, so he is confident that local jurisdictions didn”t inflate numbers in order to qualify for more federal grants.
Robinson said local governments determined they would need $73 million in equipment and training to carry out all of their preparedness goals.
State Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat from Oakland County”s Bloomfield Township who heard the state police presentation last week, said the state should combine its resources with federal money to better fund preparedness efforts.
“Certainly on the surface of it, (the report) shows definitely there is the potential of a terrorist act in Michigan and we need to be prepared for it,” he said.