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Hezbollah Probe Confirmed

5th April 2005

Joseph Lawless, former director of public safety for the Massachusetts Port Authority, said FBI agents alerted him in February 1996 that a man who had been hired as a baggage handler by one of the airlines a few weeks earlier could have ties to Hezbollah.
"My reaction was, let's get this guy out of here; we don't want him in an area where he has access to bags being loaded onto the belly of an aircraft," said Lawless, who notified a top security official at the airline. Lawless said the airline either fired the baggage handler or pressured him to resign.
Lawless, now Massport's director of maritime and bridge security, said the baggage handler had undergone a criminal background check before he was hired and didn't show up on any state or federal databases that airport officials had access to at the time. Those databases, as well as information-sharing among agencies, has improved over the past four years, he said.
FBI officials said there was "absolutely no connection" between the baggage handler and the terrorists who hijacked two planes from Logan on Sept. 11, 2001.
The new book also contends that Hezbollah had a large and active cell in Boston before the 2001 attacks, and describes how members showed up in federal court and tried to intimidate a prosecutor after a member had been arrested on criminal charges.
Powers confirmed that a suspected Hezbollah member was arrested in Boston in the late 1990s on federal charges not related to terrorism and that a member showed up to support him. But, he said, investigators never uncovered evidence of a cell, a group of people actively involved in planning terrorism, operating in the city.

Diaz said in an interview that he and Newman gathered information from at least several senior law enforcement officials that there were ongoing investigations of suspected Hezbollah activity in 14 US cities, including Boston, New York, and Newark.
The book focuses mostly on a cell that operated in Charlotte, N.C., which was broken up by the FBI in 2000 for running a cigarette smuggling ring.

"There are very few actual recorded criminal cases that involve Hezbollah," Diaz said, adding that members around the country have been commonly charged with fraud relating to credit cards, personal information, and marriages.
Kaiser and Powers said they have investigated a number of cases over the past decade involving suspected Hezbollah members, but because the criminal or immigration charges have not been connected overtly to terrorism, the suspected Hezbollah links were never made public.

In 1999, for example, Boston's Joint Terrorism Task Force had a suspected Hezbollah member deported before he could get a green card, Powers said.

But Powers said there have not been any suspected Hezbollah members prosecuted in Boston since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The bureau has moved more from prosecution to prevention and disruption," Kaiser said. "We do more to run out these leads, prevent things from happening, and disrupt organizations."
US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan said there is no evidence to suggest that Hezbollah cells exist in New England, but "we are on constant alert to the risk that some Hezbollah sympathizers or supporters may attempt to create an active cell in this region."
He added that federal prosecutors share the FBI's national strategy of launching a "preemptive strike" against those suspected of terrorist ties by charging them with crimes such as document fraud or immigration violations.
"Certainly, it's made clear to all the US attorneys across the country that we should use all the tools that are available to us to disrupt and dismantle possible terrorist threats," Sullivan said.