Misunderstanding set off Kansas City bomb scare?
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man who walked into a downtown Kansas City federal building and set off a bomb scare after asking about whether he was on a government terrorist watch list said it was all a misunderstanding and he was simply trying to figure out why his name showed up as flagged during a traffic stop.
Officers closed off several blocks of traffic near the Richard Bolling Federal Building following the incident Friday, and sent a bomb-sniffing dog and robot to search the man's car. The more than four-hour search turned up nothing threatening, according to the FBI.
Law enforcement didn't identify the man, but Wahed Moharam, who lives in the suburb of Grain Valley, told The Associated Press late Friday he was the man and confirmed his car was searched. He said he wasn't in any trouble and was never detained.
"The FBI treated me very well and they even took me home to make sure I am safe," said Moharam, who was a key witness for prosecutors several years ago in the first World Trade Center bombing case. "Whoever said, 'I have a bomb and this,' is untrue. I never said, 'I have a bomb' or anything whatsoever in that manner."
FBI special agent Michael Kaste said earlier Friday that the large-scale response was based on the "initial limited information" police had from witnesses, adding: "The primary concern was for the public's safety, which made the actions today necessary."
Moharam said he walked into the building and asked to speak to someone with Homeland Security to get more information following the traffic stop a day earlier. He said he'd been pulled over by a Jackson County sheriff's deputy, who told him his name had been flagged, and was later surrounded by five sheriff's vehicles but wasn't cited for anything.
Moharam said he was polite at the federal building, and that the individuals to whom he spoke were polite. He said an officer asked if authorities could search his car, and he answered yes, gave them his car key and offered to take them to the vehicle, but they declined. He said he waited in the building with the officials, and that they bought him a Starbucks coffee.
"I had no clue what was going on outside. I gave them the key. I didn't mean to cause any problem," said Moharam, who said he moved to the U.S. 35 years ago from Egypt. "I have nothing to hide. I have no intention of doing any harm."
FBI officials are prohibited from discussing whether someone is on a national security watch list, but Kaste said the man walked into the building "to clarify whether he was under investigation by a federal agency."
A federal law enforcement source told the AP earlier Friday that the man said something about being on the watch list, but his exact words were not clear. The source said no explosives were found on the man or in his car, but police did find a gun in the vehicle. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
Moharam said it was a toy gun, "like you buy for $10, like you see at Toys R Us." He also said the search dogs may have picked up the scent of the cleaning supplies in his car, and had told authorities the chemicals were there because he operates a cleaning business in nearby Blue Springs.
The searched car was parked near the Fletcher Daniels State Office building and the towering Bolling building, which houses numerous government agencies including the Social Security Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers. Donna Kerr, a benefits analyzer for SSA, said workers had "absolutely no information from official sources, other than to stay away from the windows." Workers were told to go home early.
Moharam insisted he wasn't trying to make trouble, saying he simply hopes to support his children and grandchildren. He wasn't told why his name had been flagged.
"I love this country. This is my country. Two-thirds of my life I've been here," Moharam said.
He also said he was angry because of the response Thursday by the sheriff's deputies who surrounded his car following the traffic stop, and noted his testimony in the first World Trade Center bombing case, saying: "I should be honored for what I did, not treated like this. It's very unfair."
Before Friday's incident, Moharam may have already been familiar to Kansas City residents as the once-ardent fan dubbed "Helmet Man" for the gear he wore to Kansas City Chiefs football games. The Chiefs revoked his season tickets out of safety concerns in 2003 after the team learned he had been in the federal witness protection program for testifying for government prosecutors in the first World Trade Center bombing.
The Chiefs confirmed it with federal authorities, and believing Moharam could still be a target because of the case, offered to rotate his tickets to different spots in the stadium and asked him to stop dressing in full "Helmet Man" regalia. When he refused, they said, they had no choice but to revoke his tickets.
Erin Gartner reported from Chicago.