Vegas man says he overheard July 4 plot

June 20, 2002 at 11:31 PM
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LAS VEGAS, June 20 (UPI) -- FBI agents Thursday night were investigating a Las Vegas man's report that he may have inadvertently eavesdropped on two unidentified subjects discussing a possible July 4 terrorist attack on the gambling capital.

Michael Hamden was born in Lebanon and understood the Arabic conversation he said he unexpectedly and inadvertently heard while driving down the Las Vegas Strip last Saturday.

"He was saying, 'We are here in the city of corruption, the city of gambling and prostitution, the city of unbelievers,'" Hamden told Las Vegas television station KLAS. "And they are talking about freedom. (They said,) 'We are going to hit them on the day of freedom.'"

The FBI has warned field offices nationwide to be alert during the Fourth of July weekend, although there have been no definite threats of a terrorist attack during the holiday.

FBI officials in Las Vegas said Thursday night they were evaluating Hamden's story.

"We are checking it out now," Special Agent Daron Borse told United Press International. "Whether it is credible or not, we don't know."

Borse told UPI that Hamden went to the media at the same time he informed federal agents of the plot he believes he overheard. Borse also said that the Las Vegas FBI expects to have the validity of the information confirmed by Monday.

The glitzy casinos and crowds of tourists could make Las Vegas a tempting high-profile target in the same way that the Statue of Liberty or the Washington Mall might be. In addition, some of the suspected Sept. 11 hijackers passed through Las Vegas in the days leading up to the attacks on New York and Washington.

Last February, the commercial truck traffic was banned on the road running across Hoover Dam, 30 miles outside Las Vegas, after a break-in at a Lakewood, Colo., highway office in which information about roads in the area was stolen along with computer hard drives and an engineer's identification badge.

The most recent hint of potential trouble came earlier this week with word of an intelligence report that a platoon-sized cadre of al Qaida terrorists could be sailing for the Southern California coast aboard a freighter from the Middle East.

Hamden told KLAS he nearly hung up the phone when he realized he was hearing a sinister conversation with voices that had thick accents which he identified as being from Saudi Arabia or some other Persian Gulf state.

"The day of our freedom means the Fourth of July," said Hamden, who has been an American citizen since 1987 but still travels to the Middle East for business purposes. "I thought, 'Oh my god, something is going to happen.'"

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(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles.)

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