3 men detained on jetliner; containership held for probe

NOT IMPLEMENTED

September 12, 2002 

The American public found out Wednesday what it means when the White House warns of a high-risk of terrorist attack: more security - and more jitters - at airports, seaports, borders, malls, amusement parks and other well-traveled places.

On a day when millions of people paused to remember the events of last Sept. 11, law enforcement agencies and private security forces were more visible than usual and more inclined to react to any suspicious behavior.

Coupled with the emotions generated by the anniversary itself, Attorney General John Ash-croft's decision Tuesday to raise the nation's terror alert index to its second-highest level created an edgy feeling in many places.

Two commercial flights were diverted during the day, a foreign ship was put out to sea awaiting additional inspection and the 41-story office tower that houses the Ohio Supreme Court was evacuated after a deliveryman allegedly declared that he was looking for a place to hide a bomb. Ohio officials said they later found materials that could be used to make a bomb in the man's van, which was parked at a loading dock. He was arrested and charged with inducing a panic.

The first airplane incident unfolded Wednesday morning on a Northwest Airlines flight from Memphis to Las Vegas. According to several officials, passengers and flight attendants became suspicious during the flight when three dark-complected men began going into and out of a lavatory, one at a time, in quick succession. They appeared to be carrying a shaving kit and passengers were concerned that the men were shaving or passing razors around, sources said.

Flight attendants related their concerns and "the pilot decided to divert the plane as a precaution," according to a statement from Northwest Airlines. He landed at a regional airport in Fort Smith, Ark., where four men were detained by the FBI, and the other 90 passengers left the plane without incident.

Three of the men were charged Wednesday night with interfering with a flight crew, a federal offense, and the fourth man was released, authorities said.

The three were identified as Havinder Singh, 41; Alaaeldin Adbelsalam, 37; and Gurdeep Wander, 48. Other details remained sketchy Wednesday night.

In the second incident, an American Airlines flight from Houston to Dallas returned to Bush Intercontinental Airport on Wednesday afternoon when a flight attendant saw a passenger wielding what she thought was a knife or straight razor. It was a folding comb, officials said.

The Coast Guard, meanwhile, ordered a containership in Port Elizabeth, N.J., back out to sea after sensors detected apparent traces of radioactivity in its cargo. The Liberian-flagged ship was moved about six miles off the coast while the FBI and Coast Guard made plans to extensively search its 655 containers. Authorities said they had not yet determined what triggered the sensors.

The FBI was seeking a place to dock the ship so the containers can be inspected.

Throughout the country, authorities were exerting extra caution. The Customs Service stepped up its inspections at places such as the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, the busiest commercial border crossing in the nation. Inspectors more closely examined contents of commercial trucks and passenger vehicles and spent more time interviewing drivers and examining paperwork, officials said.

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