Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Feds raid apartment

Feds raid apartment

Author: Larry Hanover, Lisa Coryell and Kevin Shea, Staff Writers
Publication: The Times, Trenton, New Jersey
Date: November 3, 2001

The federal investigation into the bioterrorism attack on America led to North Olden Avenue in Trenton yesterday, where authorities raided an apartment and detained a Pakistani man before testing the residence for anthrax.

Authorities also took swabs of a curbside mail drop box almost directly in front of the building, which they searched for about five hours. They confiscated several garbage bags of evidence.

The morning search, handled largely by investigators in HazMat suits, marked the second public example of activity in the Trenton area this week by the FBI, the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service and postal inspectors.

U.S. postal inspectors had told The Times on Thursday the investigation of three anthrax-laced letters carrying Trenton postmarks has narrowed in scope in the Trenton region.

At a briefing in Washington yesterday, FBI Director Bob Mueller said the bureau is pursuing more than 1,000 leads, including 100 that have led agents into other countries, he said. More than 2,000 interviews have been conducted.

Mueller urged citizens to report anything that may help track down "those responsible for using anthrax to murder Americans." He asked people to study the handwriting on the anthrax envelopes to see if they may know the author.

"The current evidence puts us at mail boxes in Trenton, where the three critical letters were mailed," he said. "And it expands beyond there, and some of the leads may well take us overseas. But the thrust of the investigation is where those letters were mailed and trying to track back from those mailboxes to the individual who is responsible for putting those letters with the anthrax into those mailboxes in Trenton."

However, Sandra Carroll, spokeswoman for the FBI's Newark office, said the public should not draw conclusions from yesterday's search or one earlier this week in a Hamilton apartment complex.

"Information that we received over the past few weeks sent us to the last few locations," Carroll said. "There are other investigations that we are continuing to conduct, although the majority of the work force is focused on the Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax case."

She said federal authorities are pursuing the investigation in area neighborhoods in ways not necessarily visible to the public.

The raid yesterday of a building in an old Polish neighborhood took place a mile and a half from a search Monday of the Greenwood Village Apartments in Hamilton.

It is also 3 miles from the route of an anthrax-infected a West Trenton letter carrier and 7 miles from the Route 130 distribution center in Hamilton, where the mail containing anthrax was processed.

A local law enforcement source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said federal authorities are strictly enforcing immigration laws to get information from foreigners in the country on visas.

Another source said authorities are still unsure whether this week's raids have a connection to the three anthrax mailings to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and the New York Post.

- - - - -

The INS yesterday detained Allah Rakha, 42, and confiscated his passport and car, said his brother, Ilyas Chaudhry, who lives at the North Olden apartment with Rakha and two Pakistani friends.

FBI agents asked Chaudhry what kind of schooling he received while growing up in his native country, inquired if he had ever worked in a laboratory and asked if he had any friends in Florida.

Efren Jimenez, owner of Tico Verde at 1001 N. Olden Ave. and landlord of the six-unit apartment building, said an FBI agent watched the mailbox near the apartment for the previous two days, giving no indication of the raid to come.

Chaudhry, 34, when asked what agents told him they were testing for, responded: "Anthrax."

Chaudhry said he was taken to Newark for questioning. He said the situation is a mix-up stemming from his brother marrying and moving from New York City to Trenton in 1998.

Trenton police officers, who guarded the scene for the federal agents, also guarded Rakha's car, a Toyota Camry parked on Indiana Avenue, until it was towed away at 12:40 p.m.

INS spokesman Kerry Gill said the agency can neither confirm nor deny any information on detainees.

The FBI on Monday detained at least two men at the Greenwood Village Apartments in Hamilton, less than a block from the city limits, carting away a number of garbage bags of evidence.

Mohammad Aslam Pervez, former manager of the Trenton Train Station newsstand and a former Greenwood Village resident, remains in jail on charges of lying to an FBI agent regarding the nature of more than $110,000 in checks and money orders written in 1995 and 1996.

Pervez, 37-year-old naturalized American citizen of Pakistani descent who moved to Jersey City in 1998, is the roommate of Mohammed Jaweed Azmath and Ayub Ali Khan, two Indian men being detained regarding a possible role in the World Trade Center attacks.

- - - - -

Azmath and Khan were arrested the day after the Sept. 11 attacks aboard an Amtrak train in Fort Worth, Texas. They were carrying nearly $6,000, box-cutters and hair dye.

Chaudhry said he was not angry at yesterday's line of questioning or the search of his North Olden apartment.

"I'm not upset. They're just doing their jobs," he said. "I'm sure they're not going to find anything.

When agents left after 2 p.m., nearly five hours after they'd arrived, Chaudhry said they took with them a book written in Urdu, the Pakistani native language.

"I don't know what they're going to do with that," he said.

Chaudhry, who said he is a permanent resident of the United States and has applied for citizenship, recently returned from a trip to Pakistan.

Chaudhry said he and his brother, along with friends Asim Nadeem and Malik Qasir, have lived in the North Olden Avenue apartment for more than six years. He said he didn't know why they were being singled out for a search.

"They're going after everybody, any Pakistanian," he said.

The FBI's Carroll said the agency is not simply going after people with INS problems.

Jimenez said he noticed nothing unusual about the four Pakistanis except that they pay their rent in cash.

"I don't think they'll find anything there. . . . They (the Pakistanis) don't care if we go in (for repairs). I don't think they hide anything," Jimenez said.

Less than an hour after federal agents swabbed the curbside drop box, letter carrier Desmond Jones of Willingboro pulled up to open it and remove the mail for delivery as usual.

Jones, who wore a mask and plastic gloves, said the situation has made him jittery.

"But I've still got to pay my bills," he said.

 - - - - -

Rakha and Chaudhry's roommates, Asim Nadeem and Malik Qasir, both 33, were pumping gas yesterday at the Exxon station at Route 31 and Delaware Avenue in Pennington.

Nadeem, who said the four men grew up together in Gujrat, Pakistan, was smiling and took the matter in stride although he was anxious to get home to learn firsthand what had occurred. His only news, he said, had come from Chaudhry in a morning phone call.

"I'm not angry," Nadeem said. "They're doing their job.

"They checked my apartment for anything to do with anthrax, but I have no idea why. I've been here for 11 years. I've been in Pennington for seven years at the same station. Half of Pennington knows me."

Nadeem said Rakha once worked at the gas station as well. Nadeem said he did not know where Rakha works now.

Qasir, who speaks limited English, said he could not understand the reason for the search when, as far as he knew, everyone's visa papers were in order.

"We have everything," Qasir said.

Mohammad N. Khan, 43, of Bangladesh is another example of an immigrant receiving close questioning from the FBI and INS on his visa status.

Khan, owner of Clothing Wholesale Outlet on Hamilton Avenue in Trenton, said agents questioned him for three straight days on Oct. 22-24 but have not contacted him since.

Khan said he was stunned to be questioned about flu-like symptoms and knowledge of anthrax.

"One (agent) just said, `If we find out you know about anthrax, we'll have to catch you and send you back to your country,' " Khan said. "I said prove it."

They also questioned his immigration status. Khan's attorney, Richard Gelade, said officials apparently were satisfied after their questioning.

(Staff writers Joel Bewley, Albert Raboteau and Linda Stein contributed to this report.)

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