Rumored terrorism links difficult to prove
- Jim Redden
- Portland Tribune - News
Alleged connections have Portland media hopping to keep up
Portland news reporters have been unable to confirm any of the local terrorism rumors that have circulated since Sept. 11.
U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith created a media firestorm earlier this week by charging that terrorists had raised money at Portland State University and Oregon State University. The FBI would not comment on Smith's allegations, and officials at both schools said no investigations into terrorism fund raising were under way.
Despite the lack of details, however, the story dominated local news. It was just the most recent example of a local terrorism report that could not be confirmed.
Here are some of the stories that have appeared in the media since the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks:
• The names of four Portland area men appeared on a list of 370 possible terrorists distributed to European financial regulators in early October. Kent Robinson, an assistant U.S. attorney in charge of anti-terrorism investigation in Oregon, would not confirm or deny the accuracy of the list.
None of the men has been charged with any terrorism-related crime, and they did not live in town when the list was released.
• Portland Tribune columnist Phil Stanford reported in early December that local police were keeping tabs on approximately 10 suspected Al-Qaida 'sleeper agents.' Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker subsequently denied knowing anything about the report, however, and no other journalists have been able to confirm it.
• In a December news conference, Kroeker strongly suggested that Portland police had helped nab a local terrorist. Ali Khaled Steitiye, a 39-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen from Lebanon, was picked up on federal weapons charges.
During the news conference, Kroeker said Steitiye had admitted receiving terrorism training. But Steitiye's lawyer, Dennis Balske, denied the allegation, saying the arrest was nothing more than a run-of-the-mill gun possession case.
Federal authorities declined to call Steitiye a terrorist, and no reporters have found he is connected to any known terrorist group.
Even Smith seemed to back down from his original allegations after the media jumped on the story.
Smith originally said the fund-raising information came from confidential security briefings with the U.S. Justice Department and FBI. He later said similar information was featured in a 1994 PBS documentary titled 'Jihad in America.'
In the documentary, a man described as a terrorist fund-raiser claimed he raised $9,500 in Corvallis sometime before 1988. That charge has never been confirmed.
No details are available about the alleged PSU fund raising. Even Gary Perlstein, an internationally recognized terrorism expert who teaches at PSU, said he had never heard anything about it.
'There were some students around who sold literature from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine about 10 or 15 years ago, but I haven't seen anything like that around here since then,' he said.