Terrorism fear prompts many calls to sheriff

Mir Latif Ahmad prompted some curiosity when he took pictures toward Whidbey Island Naval Air Station from Camano Island State Park. He is being held by the Immmigration and Naturalization Service due to a child molestation conviction. -
Mir Latif Ahmad prompted some curiosity when he took pictures toward Whidbey Island Naval Air Station from Camano Island State Park. He is being held by the Immmigration and Naturalization Service due to a child molestation conviction.
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Authorities are interested in one or two men of Middle Eastern descent who obtained information about property surrounding the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Oak Harbor.

Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said Wednesday his department looked into the situation at the request of the FBI.

The day before the terrorist attacks, on Sept. 10, someone described as a “Middle Eastern man” visited Oak Harbor City Hall, according to Hawley. The man went to the planning department seeking information about property around the Navy base.

On Sept. 10, the request seemed routine. But, Hawley said, ‘In light of the next day’s horrific event, it took on a more sinister appearance.”

Hawley said the FBI contacted his department and asked if any similar records requests were made at the Island County Courthouse. Most of the Navy facility is surrounded by land that’s in the county’s jurisdiction.

Sheriff’s detectives discovered such a request had been made. A man purchased four small plot maps on Sept. 10, but it is unknown exactly which maps were purchased. County employees remembered seeing the man, and described him as fairly dark skinned, black hair, brown eyes, late 20s to mid-30s, and speaking with an accent. The description did not seem to match that of the man in Oak Harbor, who was described as older.

The information was turned over to the FBI. “It is unknown at this time if the federal authorities are continuing to develop information on this subject,” Hawley said. “While his actions were suspicious, they were not illegal.”

The Sheriff’s Office has dealt with a number of suspicious activities reports since Sept. 11. Hawley described one as particularly “noteworthy.”

On Sept. 17, a Camano Island woman reported that a Middle Eastern man was at the state park taking pictures, aiming his “expensive camera” toward Whidbey Island Naval Air Station across Saratoga Passage.

The woman talked to the man, and he provided her with a business card. Detectives checked it out, and discovered the man, Mir Latif Ahmad, was a convicted sex offender living in King County.

Hawley said Ahmad is a native of Afghanistan who has been in this country for a number of years. His conviction on three counts of child molesting in Cowlitz County in 1991 was apparently unknown to the FBI. As of Wednesday, Hawley said, Ahmad was being held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

In another curious incident, Island County’s Web site was accessed on Sept. 20 by someone in Islamabad, Pakistan. Hawley said someone from there sent an e-mail seeking information about the county’s solid waste program. “While in the light of world events, the contact was a concern, it was not illegal,” Hawley said. “Our laws do not prohibit release of most information in the public domain to foreign addresses or addressees.”

In yet another incident, the sheriff’s office was contacted by an individual concerned about the conduct of six unidentified Middle Eastern males, several of whom were staying in a motel near the Navy base.

Hawley said the men were checked out and proved to be roofers from California who were contracted to do a job on the island. “They were legitimately staying on Whidbey for the purposes of completing a roofing job,” he said.

A separate report involving some of the same men had them fishing and videotaping the Deception Pass Bridge. Hawley described the behavior as “typical of tourists.”

Hawley called a news conference Wednesday to clarify the incidents, first reported in the Washington Times in a list of suspicious activities near military bases around the nation.

Hawley said the news conference was called to “set the record straight.” He advised citizens to “maintain a caring awareness of their surroundings, and call 911 to report their suspicions.”

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