Spanish arrests lead to heightened security

By Don Thompson, The Associated Press
Wednesday July 17, 2002

SACRAMENTO — Patrols around San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge by the California Highway Patrol doubled Tuesday and state officials claimed to have alerted local police near Disneyland and Universal Studios after the sites turned up in what are believed to be terrorist videos. 

But Disneyland and the Anaheim Police Department denied being alerted by state authorities and reported they were taking no unusual security measures. 

Spanish police arrested three Syrians on Tuesday suspected of being al-Qaida members, including one who had videos of the World Trade Center, the California locations, New York’s Statue of Liberty and the Sears Tower in Chicago. 

Within an hour after the news surfaced, California Highway Patrol officers fanned out Tuesday to talk to police in the local jurisdictions, said George Vinson, Gov. Gray Davis’ security adviser. 

But Anaheim Police spokesman, Sgt. Rick Martinez, denied Vinson’s claim. 

“No, we have not heard from them,” he said. He also denied assertions by the California Highway Patrol that they were coordinating special patrols around Disneyland with the Anaheim Police Department. 

“I can confidently say that nothing out of the ordinary is taking place,” he said. “However, nothing is ordinary since September 11.” 

For Disneyland and Universal Studios, Vinson said, the state notified the Anaheim and Los Angeles police departments. Those offices, in turn, notified the security departments for the two theme parks. 

Disneyland officials also denied being alerted by either agency. 

Investigators have previously found similar video tapes, maps and pictures — though not of California sites, Vinson said. 

“We’ve been through this drill a number of times,” Vinson said. “Just possessing that stuff isn’t against the law, and without something further from interviews or whatever, it’s difficult to tell if they were planning an attack.” 

Vinson said he had no further such information from interrogations of the three Syrians. 

Two of the suspects were arrested in Madrid and the other in the eastern town of Castellon, the Spanish Interior Ministry said in a statement. They were identified as Ghasoub Al-Abrash Ghalyoun, Abdalrahman Alarnaot Abu-Aljer and Mohamen Khair Al Saqq. Ghalyoun and Abu-Aljer had Spanish nationality, police said. 

The ministry statement said Ghalyoun belonged to the radical Muslim Brotherhood and had been arrested in Spain in April but later released. 

At the time of his first arrest, police confiscated many videos including five shot by Ghalyoun during a trip to the United States in 1997. 

“The form and type of recording go beyond touristic curiosity as shown by two of the tapes, which are entirely of different angles from different distances of the Twin Towers in New York,” the statement said. 

Other videos were extremely violent and showed Islamic fighters training in camps and during combat scenes in Chechnya, the statement said. 

An FBI task force is working with FBI operatives and local law enforcement in Spain to locate and capture suspected terrorists, a U.S. law enforcement official said. Some of the people the task force is looking to locate are men who might be tied to terrorists and have traveled to the United States in recent years. 

It was not immediately clear why Ghalyoun was released in April or re-arrested Tuesday. 

The arrests were ordered by Judge Baltasar Garzon as part of an operation begun last year with the detention of more than a dozen people across the country between November and April. The judge has accused those arrested then of recruiting members for al-Qaida, financing the group and taking part in preparations for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. 

Spanish authorities are trying to figure out what Mohamed Atta, the Sept. 11 ringleader, was doing during two trips to Spain months before the attacks. 

Meanwhile, Vinson said California will now fine-tune its terror response plan in keeping with the security plan announced Tuesday by President Bush. 

“None of it is a surprise,” he said, because it was developed in consultation with the 50 state security advisers. “Ours is going to fold in nicely because we helped design theirs.” 

Editor’s note: Associated Press Writer Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.