WASHINGTON—A Guyanese police official on Sunday said that one of the four men charged with conspiring to blow up John F. Kennedy International Airport was once the business partner of the leader of a radical Muslim group that tried to overthrow the Trinidad government in 1990.
Acting Guyana Police Commissioner Henry Greene also said the man, Abdul Kadir, a Guyanese citizen, had a business link to Mohamed Ibrahimi, an Iranian citizen mysteriously killed in 2004 in Guyana.
Greene's comments bolstered reports that Kadir and the other alleged conspirators were seeking support from Muslim radicals in the Caribbean and elsewhere for their plans to blow up jet fuel pipelines and storage tanks at the New York City airport. But there is no evidence that they'd succeeded in winning that support.
The revelations of Kadir's ties to other Muslim radicals came as terrorism and pipeline experts cast doubt on U.S. authorities' depiction of the possible consequences of the alleged plot.
Even if the plotters had succeeded in blowing up the fuel storage facilities or a pipeline, the damage would have been relatively contained, experts said.
"The impact would be very limited indeed," said Peter Lidiak, the pipeline director at the American Petroleum Institute.
Mike Ackerman, a Miami-based security consultant, echoed that assessment.
"Nothing could be as bad as the authorities made it sound," Ackerman, a former CIA terrorism expert, said. "The fact is that pipelines are hit all the time. The leftists in Colombia have hit pipelines dozens, probably hundreds of times and the technology is such that sensors in the pipelines shut them down. To suggest they'd blow up half of Queens and probably all the way to Pennsylvania was ridiculous."
Ackerman also said the alleged conspirators were probably incapable of a massive attack and that the group most likely to have assisted them, Trinidad's Jamaat al-Muslimeen, is not likely to have "the expertise that would have brought this to fruition."
Greene, the Trinidad police commissioner, said Kadir, a former opposition member of Guyana's Parliament, had once been a business partner with Jamaat al-Muslimeen's leader, Yasin Abu Bakr. The group's 1990 coup attempt left 24 dead.
Greene, who's leading Guyana's investigation into the alleged plot, said Abu Bakr visited Kadir in Guyana at least once. He said he was unsure of the date of the visit but thought it was in the past two years.
Shortly after the visit, Greene said, the two men became partners in a business exporting Guyanese lumber for fencing.
Kadir, 55, and Kareem Ibrahim, 56, of Trinidad, were arrested in Trinidad and are awaiting extradition to the United States. Russell Defreitas, a Guyana-born U.S. citizen, was arrested in New York. Abdel Nur, a citizen of Guyana, remains at large and is believed to be in Trinidad.
Three of the accused are Shiite Muslims, and two are converts to Islam, according to media reports in Trinidad. Abu Bakr is a Sunni Muslim.
Greene said Kadir studied Islam in Iran in the 1990s, and is a Shiite cleric. He established the Guyana Islamic Information Center, which hosts Islamic scholars and lecturers from overseas, including Iran.
Kadir was arrested at 11 a.m. Friday on a plane bound from Trinidad to Caracas, Venezuela. Greene said he couldn't confirm comments by Kadir's wife that he was to have picked up a visa at the Iranian embassy in Caracas so he could attend a seminar in Iran.
Greene said Kadir and his eldest son, Salim Ibn Abdul Kadir, also had links to Mohamed Ibrahimi, the murdered Iranian who ran the Islamic College of Advanced Studies in Guyana. Iran sent investigators to Guyana to help find his killers, but no one has been charged to this date.
"We know that Kadir and his eldest son had an abiding interest in this venture. They were linked to the business," Greene said. Following Ibrahimi's murder, the younger Kadir became director of the college but it soon closed.
Shiites are a tiny minority in Guyana and Trinidad, where Sunnis make up the overwhelming majority of Muslims.
Despite doubts about whether the alleged could have seriously damaged Kennedy airport's fuel facilities, some experts suggested that the United States' extensive network of pipelines is vulnerable.
A 2006 congressional report noted that since Sept. 11, "federal warnings about Al Qaida have mentioned pipelines specifically as potential terror targets." Of specific concern is the Trans Alaska pipeline that delivers nearly 17 percent of U.S. domestic oil.
The half million miles of underground pipes in the U.S.—and their volatile contents—are a risk, said Bill Hitchcock, who teaches a critical infrastructure course at Texas A&M University.
"A person who knew what to do could do a huge amount of damage, there's no questions about it," he said. "If someone really put their mind to doing it, I think it would be very difficult to stop it—I have great concerns that these things are all too plausible."
(Clark reported from Washington; Charles, of The Miami Herald, reported from Miami.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.