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Nearly 100 Arrested in Airport Security Roundup

April 24, 2002|From Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Authorities arrested close to 100 workers Tuesday at airports serving the nation's capital on charges they lied to obtain security badges that gave them broad access to sensitive areas.

Those arrested included construction workers, janitors, food workers and at least two baggage screeners.

Federal officials said that by day's end, or perhaps today, they expected to have arrested at least 138 employees in a sweep called Fly Trap at Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

At least one employee arrested already had been deported from the United States but illegally returned and obtained an airport job, authorities said. They said those arrested included at least one baggage screener each at Reagan and Dulles airports.

Ten other arrests--also on charges of immigration violations and falsified employment applications--were made at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Seven people there had failed to disclose felony convictions, prosecutors said.

Reagan airport is closest to the Pentagon, which was struck Sept. 11 by American Airlines Flight 77 after the jet took off from Dulles with five hijackers aboard. That crash killed 189 people on the plane and inside the military headquarters in Washington's Virginia suburbs.

U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said the arrests, which followed sealed indictments issued last week by a federal grand jury, "should be a wake-up call for every airport in America." People arrested could face as much as five years in prison and fines up to $250,000, and immigrants who were caught without proper documentation could be deported.

"Let me be clear," Ashcroft said. "There will be zero tolerance of security breaches at our nation's airports."

U.S. Atty. Paul McNulty described Tuesday's raids as an "anti-terrorism initiative" but said authorities have "no evidence at this point of any connection of these individuals to any terrorist organizations."

McNulty also said authorities learned during the preceding weeks that some of those arrested Tuesday had improper access to sensitive airport areas. Authorities did not restrict their movements for fear of undermining the investigation, he said.

Although the arrests targeted mostly construction workers, janitors and food workers, who normally don't go near airplanes, Justice officials defended the arrests as necessary. They said workers with illegally obtained security badges could be blackmailed into cooperating with terrorists.

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