FBI agents arrested a man they identified as a Palestinian from Jordan on charges of making threats against U.S. officials, including President Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III, and conspiring to damage military installations in North Carolina and Texas, the Justice Department said Thursday.
Federal officials emphasized that they have not been able to determine the seriousness of the threats allegedly made by Jamal Mohamed Warrayat of Rutherford, N.J.
“Threats like this are always taken seriously,” a department official said, but he noted that there is no evidence to link the 32-year-old suspect with any international terrorist network.
Michael Chertoff, U.S. attorney in New Jersey, said that from last August until Tuesday, Warrayat conspired with others to attack military installations in North Carolina and Texas and to assault and murder U.S. government officials.
If convicted of the charges, Warrayat would face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
In an Associated Press report from Newark, N.J., Warrayat’s attorney, Terence Scott, was quoted as saying that his client was born in Kuwait and has relatives in both Kuwait and Iraq.
Warrayat came to the United States in the early 1970s and served about four years in the Army until 1979, Scott said. He added that his client, who worked as a taxi driver until recently but was unemployed at the time of his arrest, denies all the charges.
Immediately after Iraq’s Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, FBI headquarters ordered its field offices throughout the country to be on alert for any signs of terrorist activity in the United States. But no hard evidence of any plot has surfaced, and there was nothing about Warrayat’s arrest linking him to Iraq.
Papers filed with a federal magistrate in Newark made clear that much of the evidence against Warrayat came from a Nov. 8 conversation he had with an FBI undercover agent near Newark International Airport.
That conversation, conducted in Arabic, was recorded, according to an affidavit by Andrew A. Apollony, an FBI agent assigned to the FBI-New Jersey State Police Terrorism Task Force.
In the conversation, Warrayat said that he headed a group of seven individuals planning to conduct terrorist acts and seeking assistance in the form of explosives, money and technical training, according to Apollony. Warrayat said he already had a couple of machine guns at an undisclosed site but needed a sniper rifle and additional machine guns.
He also told the undercover agent that the group had selected a number of targets, including high-level officials “such as” Bush, Baker and members of Congress, and military bases, the affidavit said.
The suspect said he had drawings and diagrams of the military targets, some of them made several years ago, and that they would be used in attacking the installations, according to the affidavit.
In an Aug. 31 conversation with the undercover agent, Warrayat claimed that he and the other members of his group each had at least four years of military training and that they had sufficient weapons and materials to carry out small terrorist operations, Apollony said.
It was learned that FBI agents have interviewed other persons linked to Warrayat but that no additional arrests are planned.
U.S. Atty. Chertoff said the FBI was joined by the Secret Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service and New Jersey State Police in the investigation.
Wire services reported that U.S. Magistrate Donald Haneke set a probable cause hearing for Dec. 7.