Gift-Wrapped Presents
Banned From US Airports
By Ben Fenton in Washington
ISSUE 1672

Wrapped presents were banned at America's airports yesterday as the nation was gripped by fear of Millennium terrorists. A bomb scare in the office of the nation's most senior military officer increased the tension. Queues lengthened at security gates in all of America's major airports as authorities imposed stricter checks than usual.
All bags were subject to search, dogs trained to sniff out explosives were pressed into service and passengers were warned not to wrap presents until they reached their destination.
In Washington, a Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet was delayed by an hour at Dulles airport as the FBI searched it. A crew member had found a paper napkin with "a one-word note" on board. The search revealed nothing. At the Pentagon, the offices of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen Hugh Shelton, were evacuated after a suspicious package was found.
It turned out to be a false alarm, a bag with wires poking out left behind by a workman on Monday. The fact that it had been found at all was indicative of a heightened level of security. The contractor accidentally left it in the gap above a false ceiling less than 12 hours before its discovery.
The mounting concerns stem from a State Department alert issued earlier this month and repeated on Tuesday to Americans travelling abroad. It warns of potential attacks by terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi multi-millionaire. Customs officers in Washington state last week arrested an Algerian, Ahmed Ressam, as he drove across the border from Canada in a car carrying enough explosive to make four large bombs.
Court papers allege that Ressam has links to the Groupe Islamic Armée, an Algerian terrorist organisation. On Saturday, Bouabide Chamchi, another Algerian, carrying a fake French passport, was detained on the other side of the country as he tried to cross into Vermont from Canada. The woman with him is known to have tried to drive in with a man with Pakistani papers last week and crossed the border with another Algerian man before that.
Immigration officers and the FBI are trying to discover whether Lucia Garofalo was involved in smuggling illegal aliens into America or whether there is a terrorism link to the case. The reaction of sniffer dogs indicated that the car Garofalo and Chamchi were driving in may have once carried explosives, although nothing was found. So far, the two cases have not been linked.
An extra 350 customs and immigration officers have been put on duty at the Canadian border and precautions at all 301 points of entry into America have been strengthened. International counter-terrorist activity has increased as well. In addition to the arrests of 14 alleged terrorists with links to bin Laden in Jordan this month and the detention of up to 80 men, mainly Afghans, in Pakistan, police in Dublin raided three houses and arrested five North Africans.
The men, an Algerian, two Egyptians and two Libyans, were later released without charge.


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