Seven alleged members of a terrorist wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization living in the Los Angeles area were taken into custody by federal officials Monday on charges of violating U.S. immigration laws.
FBI officials in Los Angeles and Washington said the arrests, made by agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, followed a "lengthy investigation" into the group that began last year. Officials said they will seek to deport the seven.
The FBI identified the seven foreign nationals as members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist offshoot of the PLO that has claimed credit for terrorist attacks around the world.
One source told The Times the investigation began last March, following U.S. bombing raids on Libya, when George Habash, the Syrian-based leader of the Popular Front, vowed reprisal attacks against U.S. citizens around the world.
The seven, their hands and legs shackled, were brought before U.S. Immigration Judge Ingrid Hrycenko where they were described as a "security risk" by Immigration District Counsel Elizabeth Hacker and INS prosecutor Melainie Fitzsimmons, who is in charge of the case.
No Weapons Found
The suspects were apprehended Monday morning at their homes without incident and no weapons were found in their possession, one FBI official said. He added that six of those apprehended on alleged immigration violations are Jordanians and one is from Kenya.
One of those arrested was Khader Musa Hamide, 32, a Jordanian residing in Glendale, who was identified by the FBI as the California leader of the Palestinian liberation splinter group.
Also arrested were Aiad Khaled Barakat, 26, and Julie Nyangugi Mungabh, 28, of Kenya, both of Glendale; Ayman Mustafa Obeid, 22, Amjad Mustafa Obeid, 23, and Michel Ibrahim Nasif Shehadeh, 30, all Jordanians living in Long Beach, and Naim Nadium Sharif, 26, a West Bank Jordanian living in Northridge.
One of the lawyers representing the seven, Gary Silbiger, described the defendants as a mix of professional people and students.
Reason Not Clear
Silbiger said he was not told what prompted the arrests and probably would not find out until Wednesday when bail is expected to be set for the seven.
"I have no idea" why they were arrested, he said. "I thought we went through this in the McCarthy era."
Five of the seven, he said, were transferred to a detention facility in San Diego because federal officials said they are "security risks" thought to be too dangerous to be incarcerated here, Silbiger said he was told by federal officials.
The federal order to show cause why the seven should not be deported charged that the each of the seven has "been a member of or affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an organization that advocated the economic, international and governmental doctrines of . . . world communism through written or printed publications . . . ."
No Super Bowl Link
Officials stressed there was no connection between the timing of the arrests and Sunday's Super Bowl Game in Pasadena. One FBI official said it was "mere coincidence."
The FBI originally called a news conference to announce the arrests, delayed it an hour, then canceled the news conference. One source said the decision to cancel was made because of concerns that publicity generated by a news conference might have jeopardized negotiations for release of American hostages in the Middle East.
The FBI's chief spokesman in Los Angeles, Fred Reagan, said only that the decision to cancel the news conference was "a decision made internally." Reagan declined to give any further details as to why the suspects were arrested at this time.
Times staff writer Ronald J. Ostrow in Washington contributed to this story.