PORTLAND, Ore. Portland police Chief Mark Kroeker is hoping the arrest of a Lebanese-born man on federal weapons charges here will prove the bureau is doing its part in the fight against terrorism.
The suspect, identified as 39-year-old Ali Khaled Steitiye, trained at guerrilla camps in his homeland and was arrested with two guns, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition and a machete in his car
Moreover, Kroeker said investigators using a search warrant found a calendar at the suspect’s home with Sept. 11 highlighted and a plaque with the name "Hamas" the guerrilla group that has been staging suicide bombings in Israel
It was not clear whether Steitiye had highlighted the date before or after the attacks on Sept. 11, or whether he had any link to the attacks, Kroeker said
Portland’s joint terrorism task force which consists of federal agents and city police made the arrest on Oct. 24. A gun dealer had alerted police in August that Steitiye had tried to fraudulently buy an assault rifle by lying about prior theft and forgery felonies in Oregon and Oklahoma
police had been keeping tabs on the man even before he tried to buy the gun, Kroeker said
"A man going around the city of Portland with an assault rifle, a machete and a 9mm pistol is certainly a threat to the public," Kroeker said. "Obviously, this is a violent individual.
At the suspect’s southwest Portland home, police found fraudulent Social Security cards, credit cards and an immigration green card, he said. They also found $20,000 in cash and evidence of as much as $70,000 in welfare fraud
The arrest was made public after a detention hearing Tuesday in which federal prosecutors used the evidence to argue Steitiye should be kept in custody while the investigation continued
"I care about this country," Steitiye said during the hearing. "I care about the interest of this country and the security of this country.
He said he had noted Sept. 11 on his calendar because it was a sad day for him
But prosecutors had a different story. "He is an extreme flight risk, and we consider him an extreme danger," said Fred Weinhouse, an assistant U.S. attorney, portraying Steitiye as a man obsessed with accumulating weapons
Steitiye was denied release. His lawyer, Dennis Balske, said authorities are overreacting to a basic gun case because of the terrorist attacks
"There is a little bit of hysteria in the air," Balske said. "I think we need to look at this calmly. They’re making this out to be a lot bigger than it is.
A woman who identified herself as Steitiye’s wife, contacted at their home, told a reporter from KATU-TV news that police had the wrong man and her husband was not a terrorist. When contacted by The Associated Press, she said she had nothing to add
Kroeker made a point of noting that Steitiye was not among the list of 23 men in Portland to be interviewed as part of the national terrorism investigation
The police department had been criticized for its decision not to question the foreign men a decision based on the city attorney’s interpretation of state law, which says people can’t be questioned about their immigration status if they aren’t crime suspects
Kroeker said the arrest proves the bureau has in fact been working closely with federal authorities in the fight against terrorism. He said it was hard to endure criticism for not helping with the federal interviews while the secret investigation surrounding Steitiye was going on
"I want people in Portland to know there is full cooperation between the Portland police Bureau and federal agencies," Kroeker said
Kroeker said Tuesday’s announcement "is in response, in part, to a misinformation that is out there that gives the impression that the Portland police Bureau is obstructing this investigation in some sense
"It gives me a certain amount of release to be able to talk about what we are doing instead of what we are not doing.
Michael Mosman, the U.S. attorney for Oregon, refused to discuss the case but praised police for their work
"When the rubber hits the road, Portland police have been there for us," Mosman said.