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Kansas City evacuation, bomb scare has quite the backstory

September 14, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • A state office building was evacuated in Kansas City after a bomb-sniffing dog indicated signs of explosives.
A state office building was evacuated in Kansas City after a bomb-sniffing… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In one lifetime, Wahed Moharam has been a legendary Kansas City Chiefs football fan and a witness in the case against the suspects in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Then, on Friday, the former Egyptian soldier and football super-fan once known as the face-painted, drum-banging “Helmet Man” found himself at the center of a bomb scare at a state office building in Kansas City when, according to witnesses, he complained about being put on a terrorism watch list.

Evacuations soon followed, a bomb squad was brought in, and a bomb-sniffing dog hinted that some kind of explosive materials might be in his car, police said.

But according to federal officials and Moharam’s wife, Debra, who asked that her last name not be used, it was all a big misunderstanding — just another entanglement for those living on the edges of the war on terrorism.

The incident began Thursday evening, when police in the nearby burg of Grain Valley pulled Moharam over for doing 55 mph in a 35 mph zone, she said. Apparently his name registered as being on a terrorism watch list, she said — every time he travels, the authorities search his luggage — and the stop turned into an embarrassing inconvenience that ended with a warning.

“Today he said, 'I think I need to go talk to somebody down there to see what I can do so that this doesn’t happen anymore,' and I said, ‘maybe you should choose your battles more wisely,' ” Moharam’s wife said Friday, with a slight laugh.

She emphasized that, before Moharam left the house on Friday morning, he hadn’t been angry.

His wife said she hadn’t spoken with him since the flare-up, but the Kansas City Star reached Moharam by cellphone while he was in custody -- and as a bomb unit robot poked and prodded the trunk of his car. At the time, Kansas City was wondering whether it was the latest target in a series of false bomb scares.

“Everything is OK,” Moharam told the Star. “I don’t have to tell you exactly where I am. The FBI requests me to hang up the phone, but I can assure you I’m OK and they treat me good.”

He also told the Star: “And everything mistake. Everything mistake. I didn’t have any bad thing anyway. Everything is just — thank you and God bless you and I’m OK.”

Moharam, who has been an American citizen for decades, was in a federal witness protection program for almost 10 years after his testimony over the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people.

He once attended the mosque led by the “blind sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, the ideological leader for many Sunni jihadis. Moharam later spied on Abdel Rahman for the FBI and later testified against the 1993 bombers, one of whom worked for his car-service company in New Jersey.

After the trial, he went into the witness protection program under the name “Ed” and landed in Kansas City. There, he became a rabid, drum-banging Chiefs fan until his cover was blown by an ex-wife.

She created a website accusing him of being involved in the 1993 bombing and the subsequent Sept. 11., 2001, terrorist attacks. The team then took away his season tickets, fearing for his safety, according to a 2003 profile by the Kansas City Star.

When the team wouldn’t allow him back into the stadium, he claimed racism and tried to dress up and go to a game anyway. The club had him arrested and charged with trespassing, one of his lawyers told the Star.

Moharam popped back up on the radar in 2011 in an interview someone with his name gave to a Daily Kos blogger in Kansas City during a pro-revolutionary protest against Egypt’s authoritarian regime.

Moharam railed against Al Qaeda and Hosni Mubarak’s regime and praised the U.S. at length. “We have the best land, the best freedom in the world,” he told Daily Kos, in broken English. “Why we don’t tell these people copy from us?”

In 2003, he spoke of being in debt and adrift, still trying to slip out of the entanglements of his knotty past, and Friday’s scare suggested he still hadn’t made it out.

“The individual who walked into the Federal Building did so to clarify whether he was under investigation by a federal agency," the FBI said in a statement, adding: "Federal law prohibits the FBI from discussing whether a person may or may not be included on national security related lists." 

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nation@latimes.com 

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