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Published: 2/23/2006

Business falls at firms tied to 3 suspects

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA AND CHRISTINA HALL
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Justin Covyaw, manager of AZ Services & Travel, in the doorway of the business, said customers do not want to visit the office. Justin Covyaw, manager of AZ Services & Travel, in the doorway of the business, said customers do not want to visit the office.
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The owner of a West Toledo used car lot, whose nephew is one of the three area terrorism suspects indicted Tuesday, said he has received multiple death threats in the wake of national media attention to the case.

At the same time, business at a travel agency where another suspected terrorist worked came to a standstill yesterday.

Yassar "Jay" Elkechen, the owner of Ram Auto Sales on Monroe Street and Rushland Avenue, reaffirmed yesterday his support for his nephew, Wassim Mazloum - who ran the Monroe Street business himself last year.

"I was surprised by all of this," Mr. Elkechen said. "He is a young kid, very calm. This is all wrong."

Mr. Mazloum, 24, of 5526 Grey Drive, Sylvania, along with Mohammad Zaki Amawi, 26, of 4 Chelmsley Ct., and Marwan Othman El-Hindi, 42, of 3524 Mayo St., was charged with conspiring to kill or injure U.S. and coalition troops in the Middle East and with providing the "support and resources" to do so. Mr. Amawi was also charged with threatening to kill the President.

Since the arrests became public, Mr. Elkechen said at least 10 people had called his business yesterday threatening to do him harm. He said one person called him a terrorist and told him that he "has to go."

Mr. Elkechen said he had not reported the threats to authorities, but had hired security to guard the business.

Carl Spicocchi, head of the Toledo FBI office, said he was unaware of any death threats made to the business or anyone connected with the three suspects. Federal law prohibits ethnic intimidation.

AZ Travel and Services in West Toledo, where Mr. Amawi worked, has been affected by the media attention even though the business was not identified by name in the indictment.

"The customers don't want to come in," manager Justin Covyaw said. "We're just trying to function as a normal business. But we'll get through it. We're a good, honest company. We try to provide the best customer support for our customers."

The indictment alleges Mr. Amawi arrived at the Amman, Jordan, airport in August with a letter for Jordanian officials that was written by his employer at a travel agency in Toledo. The letter claimed five laptop computers he had were to be used by the travel agency to facilitate the "United States Diversity Immigrant Visa Program," in which the agency was participating.

Mr. Amawi and an unidentified "Trainer" - a person with military background who contacted authorities about the terror plot - were allowed to keep the computers and take them into Jordan.

Two days later, the indictment alleges, Mr. Amawi communicated with an unknown person to arrange to turn over the computers to mujahideen, an Arab term loosely defined as Muslim guerilla warriors engaged in a holy war.

But Mr. Covyaw said Mr. Amawi was not working for the travel agency when he traveled to Jordan. While the agency has a diversity immigration program, he emphasized that Mr. Amawi "wasn't working on anything with that program."

Mr. Covyaw said Mr. Amawi "never had anything to do with the immigration lottery," adding that a specialist deals with the program. He said Mr. Amawi also did not have any equipment or letter from the travel agency.

Mr. Covyaw said Mr. Amawi worked for the travel agency from January, 2005, to August, 2005, and the agency has not had contact with him since. He said Mr. Amawi planned to start an Internet cafe in Jordan - something Mr. Amawi's brother and mother stated in a separate interview on Tuesday.

"Honestly, he was a really nice guy," Mr. Covyaw said of Mr. Amawi. "You'd never suspect him of anything like this. He was a sweet guy, courteous."

Mr. Covyaw said the agency closed about three hours early Tuesday, after the indictment was unsealed and the media began pouring into the business. The firm had no customers yesterday, he said.

The owner of the Ram used-car lot on Monroe Street also reported no customers yesterday.

Mr. Mazloum, who was born in Lebanon and grew up in Venezuela, operates City Auto Sales, 1921 North Reynolds Rd. with a brother.

The indictment alleges Mr. Amawi, Mr. El-Hindi, and Mr. Mazloum watched, downloaded, and talked about "jihadist" training material.

The announcement of the federal indictment Tuesday prompted some discussion about terrorists yesterday between the rank-and-file and the management of the Toledo Police Department.

A notice was posted in the public announcement section of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association Web site stating that "questions are raised whether Toledo's environment attracts those groups due to the lack of police presence."

The notice contained information from another Web site link indicating that Toledo has one of the lowest number of officers per capita of any midsized U.S. city. The union indicated Toledo has 675 officers, less than half of whom are "frontline officers" responsible for street patrol. The number of calls these officers respond to, the posting stated, prevents adequate proactive patrol.

"Combine those facts with a city such as Toledo with major ports, direct access to major interstates, and close driving proximity to major U.S. cities, is it a surprise they chose Toledo as a base of operation?" the Web posting asked.

Police Chief Jack Smith said he was "hot" about the notice when it was brought to his attention by the media. He called it "irresponsible" and "opportunistic."

"That's reprehensible that they would do that right now. It's creating more of an atmosphere of fear," he said. "We can handle the job we're doing. We've handled it for years."

Chief Smith said a new police class of 30 cadets is scheduled this year and the department has not lost as many officers to retirement as expected. The chief said he is going to explore all his options in response to the posting but acknowledged he does not anticipate any disciplinary action because "there are things they can do as patrolmen and union members."

"If I was a member, I would demand they pull that off and put an apology in its place," he said.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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