DETROIT - In the days after the terrorist attacks, FBI agents followed a trail that wound from Boston and New York to a working-class neighborhood in the heart of South Detroit.
The target of their search: Nabil Almarabh.
But by the time FBI agents surrounded the old brick duplex on Norman Street a week later, the mysterious 34-year-old Iraqi was gone.
Described as quiet and mild-mannered, he's considered one of the few links in America to the organization founded by Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the hijackings.
FBI agents frantically searched for the dark-haired former cab driver, raiding the rental flat. He eventually was arrested by FBI agents in suburban Chicago on Sept. 19 and has been flown to New York for questioning.
Details about his life in this country are sketchy, but his movements over the last two years have alarmed federal agents.
And his presence in metro Detroit lends support to the notions that metro Detroit - the area with the nation's largest concentration of Arab-Americans - has attracted terrorist supporters.
He had been in the Detroit area since at least the summer of 2000, obtaining five Michigan driver's licenses in 13 months, records show.
For the last two years, he was known to bounce back and forth between Detroit and Canada, but no one seems to know why. In June, 2000, he was caught by Canadian border patrol agents hiding in a tractor-trailer rig trying to enter the United States through the Queen's Lewiston Bridge at Niagara Falls, reports state. He was carrying a false passport.
The Canadian court set bond for $7,500, which was posted by a man in Toronto who said he was the suspect's uncle. Instead of appearing for his court date, however, he left the country and returned to Detroit.
In August, 2000, he signed up for truck driving lessons at A & K Driving School in Dearborn. He completed training in big rigs and received a hazardous-cargo certificate.
He was a good student, recalled instructor Hatem Aly, who said Almarabh signed up and paid $1,700 tuition with a personal check.
He was arrested in Boston for stabbing a man in the knee during a quarrel and received a probation sentence. But he failed to appear for a probation session, and a warrant was issued for him.
FBI agents are trying to find out more about the ties between Almarabh and a man who is in prison in Jordan for plotting to blow up holy sites and a popular tourist hotel in that country.
According to U.S. officials, Almarabh and Raed Hijazi, 32, worked together for a Boston cab company and were close friends.
Since his arrest in Jordan, Hijazi began to cooperate with investigators there and identified Almarabh as an operative in the United States of al-Qaeda, the group founded by bin Laden, U.S. officials said.
Because Almarabh used an address on Norman Street in Detroit on a driver's license, agents surrounded the home on Sept. 17. On the black mailbox was his name.
Though they did not find him inside, they arrested three other men - Ahmed Hannan, Karim Koubriti, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud - on charges of possessing false immigration documents.
Agents found suspicious items, including 28 passport-size photos and fraudulent documents, as well as a day planner with sketches of an airport, a U.S. military base in Turkey, and jottings in Arabic about the American foreign minister there.
Agents say Mr. Hannan, 33, and Mr. Koubriti, 23 - resident aliens from North Africa - had lived in the rental flat about two weeks and had moved from another Detroit home. Earlier this year they were living in Canton, Ohio, reports state.
The two had worked for LSG Sky Chefs in a facility near Detroit Metro Airport for a few months ending in July. Both men insisted the documents were not theirs but belong to a man they knew only as Jalali.
Jalali, whose real name is Youssef Hmimssa, since has been arrested in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is expected to be extradited to Michigan soon, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit.
Authorities are hoping the suspect can help explain the fake documents as well as the actions of Almarabh.
A second FBI investigation has also touched on metro Detroit over the last three weeks.
At least nine people from Michigan were arrested between Sept. 26 and 28 on charges of fraudulently obtaining licenses to haul hazardous waste.
The FBI does not believe the group is connected to the Sept. 11 attacks, but agents are still saying there is a “clear and present danger” that terrorists could plot chemical attacks.
The men were among 20 who obtained the licenses and hazardous-materials certifications with the aid of a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation driver's license examiner who worked in a state building in Pittsburgh.
A court affidavit said a middleman named Abdul Mohamman, known as Ben, worked out the arrangements.
The Blade's wire services contributed to this report.42.33168 -83.04792