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Raid on Terror Suspects Occurs in Unlikeliest of Neighborhoods

Arrests: The everyday routine in Portland ends abruptly when agents from the FBI arrive.

October 05, 2002|PETER HONG and PATRICK McDONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PORTLAND, Ore. — The latest strike in the war on terrorism hit a neighborhood that for many residents is a steppingstone to their American dream of middle-class prosperity.

Before sunrise Friday, FBI agents rousted three suspected terrorist cell members at a pair of southwest Portland apartment complexes, startling children readying themselves for school and parents up early for work with the sight of their neighbors being arrested.

Twelve-year-old Wesley Jacobsen was about to take her dog for a morning walk just after 6 a.m. when she saw a swarm of black-uniformed men outside her window.

"There were all these guys with FBI vests on. I just stayed inside," she said.

Jacobsen lives with her mother across a courtyard from the unit where FBI agents arrested Jeffrey Leon Battle, 32, and his ex-wife, October Martinique Lewis, 25, in a woodsy compound built on grassy slopes just off a busy highway.

A few blocks away, agents also were arresting Patrice Lumumba Ford, 31, at another apartment complex where Ford lived with his wife and toddler son.

Nazefa Wahedi, 29, who lives in the apartment next to the Fords, said she awoke Friday to the sound of men barking, "Get out!" and wondered whether the orders were meant for her. She peeked through her front curtains and saw a uniformed FBI agent waving at her to stay inside.

Wahedi said the Ford family were like many others in the horseshoe-shaped apartment building--a couple with a young child seemingly focused on work or school.

Ford told Wahedi he had lived in China, where his wife was from. Wahedi said the couple often spoke to each other in Chinese. She said the Fords had an 18-month-old son, Ibrahim.

"It was very frightening," she said of the raid. "I don't know why they had to do it like that, like he was a murderer or something. He is a very peaceful man," she said.

Wahedi thought Ford was a student at Portland State University or nearby Portland Community College, because he often carried a backpack with books. She said he also operated some kind of vending kiosk at a shopping mall.

The arrests shocked Wahedi not only because she knew the Fords as a quiet and somewhat friendly couple, but also because she is a Muslim from Afghanistan. While she and others said few Muslims live in the community, there are two mosques in the neighborhood and a halal food market.

Wahedi said that since the Sept. 11 attacks, she has stopped wearing a scarf over her head when she goes to her job at a nearby Nordstrom. She said after Friday morning's raid, her 10-year-old daughter told her she was afraid to leave for school with her head covered.

Ford never spoke to Wahedi about religion. Wahedi said she saw Ford occasionally, praying at the Islamic Center of Portland, but does not believe he was a regular at the mosques where she worships. The Islamic Center is home to Sheik Mohammed Abdirahman Kariye, the religious leader who was arrested Sept. 8 by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. Kariye, 41, was indicted on suspicion of Social Security fraud.

Officials have not said whether he was involved in any terrorist-related activity, but in 1992, he was co-founder of a charity now under investigation for having ties to Al Qaeda.

He remains in jail awaiting a Nov. 5 trial.

While the Fords were described as amicable neighbors, those who lived near Battle and Lewis said they were reclusive to the point that they forbade their 5-year-old son from playing with other children at the apartment playground.

Matt Hawkey, 36, said the couple never spoke to other residents and their son told other children earlier this year "that 9/11 was a good thing." Hawkey said he called the FBI when he heard of the remark.

Cathy Jacobsen, 38, said after the raid that she and her daughter Wesley discussed the treatment of Muslims and both said they were concerned about another Muslim family in the complex.

"We talked about not discriminating against an entire race. We don't want anything to happen to the other family," she said.

Next to the apartment complex at Rizwan Mosque, president Mona Luqman said the mosque has received overwhelming support from people since Sept. 11.

"We've gotten hundreds of calls after 9/11, all supportive, and for many months people left flowers at our door," he said.

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