No prime suspect yet in e-mail threat - Rohee
December 6, 2006
Guyana has requested security help from its Caricom counterparts, as it remains mobilized against an e-mail threat issued on Friday to the airline industry here but there is no prime suspect as yet, according to Home Affairs Minister, Clement Rohee.
Rohee told reporters yesterday that he recently met with security officials from the region and alerted them of the threat made to Guyana. He said that he was given the assurance that the countries would help once the need arose.
At an impromptu press conference held at his office yesterday the Home Affairs Minister also said that although the threatening message seems to have been a prank the administration will not take any chances. He however warned that under the terrorism act, there is scope to prosecute the person who is responsible for issuing the e-mail and he said that as soon as the investigation was completed the administration would act. "Charges would be laid," Rohee declared.
Rohee told the news conference that at present there was no prime suspect, neither was there any information to suggest that any religious fanatic was involved. The Guyana Chronicle had yesterday reported that the man suspected of sending the e-mail threat had been held and was being questioned.
The Home Affairs Minister disclosed that three employees of the New Amsterdam internet cafĂ© Netsurf from where the e-mail was sent were taken into custody on Monday for questioning but have since been released. A fourth person was also arrested on Monday morning in the city. Rohee said that the man has connections with the owner of the cafĂ© who is overseas. He told the media that it has been alleged that the city man was the one who enabled the owner to get a phone line so that he could conduct his internet business.
The computer system that was seized.
On Friday the threat was sent to several email addresses purporting to be those of North American Airlines and BWIA and was also copied to the US Embassy, Stabroek News and other addresses. The threat said that toxic chemicals would be used on the flights and it drew a link between the alleged plot and the mystery illness which recently affected children from the Annandale Secondary School. The message said that the sender was revealing the threat as he/she has been affected by the sight of the sick children. The anonymous email stated that 'some American airlines, North American Airlines and BWIA flights transporting American citizens from the US to Britain, the Caribbean and African destinations and returning flights will be under serious chemical attack from independent military group.'
The sender's name and email address were listed as Yuv Ata and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rohee told the news conference that the administration was very concerned about the threat, noting that it is because of this concern they solicited outside help.
He said that local detectives and officials of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were able to identify the precise location where the email emanated.
Rohee said he was very satisfied with the speed with which the investigations went noting that within such a short time frame they were able to identify persons and the location.
"We saw this as a potential terrorist threat and obviously any threat of this nature would fall under the terrorism act, which makes provision for persons who are not only involved in activities of a terrorist nature, but also persons who are involved in promoting and facilitating these acts," the Home Affairs Minister said.
On whether the administration was convinced that it was a prank, Rohee said
"It is clear that they (sender of email) did not have the tools to execute the action or to fulfill their threat which they said they would have done... so since they did not fulfill their threat one can draw any conclusion, but matters of this type we cannot underestimate."
The minister said the administration would continue to be vigilant as it is better for them to err on the side of caution. Asked about the FBI's involvement, the Home Affairs Minister said that he could not say where exactly they are at the moment with their investigations, but asserted that the most important thing is to recognize their assistance along with other international help.
The minister said that the joint services and all of the other agencies remained mobilized at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport. "Threat will always be there but this does not mean Guyana must press the panic button... it is a test for us and certainly lessons would be learnt," the Home Affairs Minister declared.
A joint services team and airport officials have classified the threat level as 'Alert Condition 3' in accordance with the Airport Security Programme. Alert Condition 3 requires maximum-security measures including: additional screening of passengers, more stringent access control measures and additional security checks of baggage and hand pieces. In a statement on Monday the airport said that passengers would not be allowed to carry liquids, gels, aerosols and powders in their hand luggage. They are permitted to carry these items in their 'checked baggage' only.
Meanwhile, staff at Netsurf.com on Asylum Street, New Amsterdam were yesterday in shock over the incident.
Local police and three FBI agents carried out searches on computers at the internet cafĂ© on Monday and found information on one of the systems that the e-mail was reportedly sent from. That computer was seized by the FBI for further investigation.
Two employees were also taken to the New Amsterdam Central Police Station for questioning.
The supervisor of the cafĂ© told Stabroek News yesterday that she left to go out and when she returned about 9:30 am she was shocked to see the place closed, the area cordoned off and the police and another staffer outside. She said the police told her they were conducting investigations and were awaiting the FBI. Three hours later three FBI agents arrived and they entered the cafĂ© and asked questions about the computer systems. She said an agent checked systems one and two and found nothing. He then moved on to check system three and within a few minutes he found what he was looking for.
A staffer said that at first the men wanted to take only the memory from the computer and replace it with new memory. But it was decided that the entire system - monitor and hard drive - be seized instead.
The supervisor said the information in the Guyana Chronicle report yesterday that four computers were taken from the cafĂ© is inaccurate and said the FBI needed only one to do their investigations.
She said she and the other employee were taken to the station to give statements and when they left the station around 7 pm the cafĂ© was again open for normal business, including calls and browsing.
She said this is the first time she has experienced such an incident since the business was opened in 2001. The woman said they do not keep records of who comes and goes and she cannot recall seeing anyone suspicious at the time when the e-mail was reportedly sent out. Observers say it would be difficult to pinpoint which user at a terminal in the internet cafĂ© would have sent the e-mail.
Owner of the business, Stephen Thompson, who is presently in the United States of America, told Stabroek News via telephone, "I am surprised and shocked, that persons used my service to carry out such threats and I do hope they can be apprehended." He said the cafĂ© is a public place and he would not know what people are doing. But in the interest of the country he would continue to do all he can to monitor people who go there.
According to him, "As Guyana prepares for World Cup Cricket I want to assure persons that we would try our best to provide a better service, especially in the line of security." He said his staff were held for questioning and released and it is clear that management has nothing to do with the threat. He wants the public to know that he is opened for business as usual. (Nigel Williams and Shabna Ullah)