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June 30, 2004
AQ Suspect Licensed To Haul Hazardous Materials

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports this morning that Mohamad Elzahabi, arrested for suspected connections to al-Qaeda and terrorist-related activities, received licenses to drive school buses and transport hazardous materials:

The FBI identified Mohamad Elzahabi as a suspected terrorist well before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and more than 2 years before his arrest last week, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

Yet officials of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said they had no clue that Elzahabi was suspected of having Al-Qaida connections when he applied for, and in early 2002 received, a commercial driver's license to drive a school bus and to haul hazardous materials.

Before the Minneapolis man got final approval for the commercial license, the FBI ran Elzahabi's name through a database and cleared him on Jan. 18, 2002, said Pat McCormack, interim director of the department's Division of Driver and Vehicle Licensing.

This demonstrates that mush work needs to be done to our information infrastructure if we are to prevent another 9/11, or worse. Timothy McVeigh proved how much damage a truckful of hazardous materials can do, and they didn't bother with a license and had to use farm fertilizers. With a license, Elzahabi could have accessed much more powerful and deadly ingredients for an attack, such as gasoline for an explosion or chlorine for a gas cloud that could have killed thousands.

Even now, Minnesota won't affirm whether a similar application would get stopped before final approval:

Public Safety Department spokesman Kevin Smith said "there were numbers of different lists, which finally in the past year have been ... streamlined into one list" of possible or suspected terrorists. He declined to discuss the Elzahabi case but said that if a person named on a terrorism watch list applied for a similar license today, his name would show up in a computer match.

Perhaps it's time to make sure the system works, before we have to create another post-attack commission to point out flaws after thousands of Americans lie dead in the streets. You know, it's just a thought.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 30, 2004 7:20 AM

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