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Published: 2/23/2006

Ohio user-friendly as base, security task force asserts

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - With five major terrorism-related arrests in three years, Ohio has to realize it has become a "user-friendly" place for plotting, the chairman of the Ohio Security Task Force said yesterday.

"Ohio is not going to be near the risk of being a target as New York, Washington, L.A., Miami, or even some of the port cities," said Ken Morckel, director of the Department of Public Safety. "However, separate from being a target, are we a user-friendly environment to live, work, plan, and gather resources for terrorism? It would appear so.

"I don't understand the dynamics of that other than that this is the third significant case on a national basis that we've had in the state of Ohio; so we have to start looking at the fact that moving to the Midwest, and living and working here while you continue these activities that these three [in Toledo] are being charged with, appears to be a pattern that we have to pay attention to," he said.

In 2003, Iyman Farris, a naturalized U.S. citizen and Ohio truck driver, pleaded guilty in connection with an al-Qaeda plot to destroy New York's Brooklyn Bridge. He is serving a 20-year federal prison sentence.

In 2004, Nuradin M. Abdi - a Somali national living in Columbus and the owner of a cellular phone business, and an associated of Farris - was indicted in an alleged al-Qaeda plot to bomb an unidentified shopping mall. The case is still pending.

On Tuesday, federal authorities announced the indictments of Mohammad Zaki Amawi, 26, and Marwan Othman El-Hindi, 42, both of Toledo, and Wassim Mazloum, 24, of Sylvania for plotting to kill or injure American and coalition forces in the Middle East.

The task force, consisting of heads of 21 state agencies, advises the governor on issues related to the state's efforts to prevent terrorism as well as respond if it occurs. Task force members talked with reporters yesterday after its regular bimonthly meeting, but declined to specifically provide information beyond what was included in the indictments unsealed Tuesday.

"These arrests in Toledo most recently certainly show the results of an active prevention program and actively going after those who would do us all harm before the event," said Mr. Morckel.

Investigators credit tips from within the Muslim community as ultimately leading to the most recent indictments. In part to encourage such cooperation, Ohio Homeland Security Executive Director John Overly said the department has hired a Muslim professor to serve as full-time liaison with the Muslim community, visiting mosques, and meeting with community leaders.

The task force operates a public awareness campaign, "See Something, Say Something," to encourage tips relating to suspicious activity.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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