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No terrorism suspected in O'Hare weapons arrest

Subash Gurung
Subash Gurung: "No nefarious or suspicious purpose" to his flight, the U.S. attorney's office said.  


CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Federal authorities suggested Monday there was no indication of terrorist activity from a weekend incident in which a man tried to board a United Airlines flight armed with nine knives, a can of tear gas and a stun gun.

Subash Gurung, 27, in the United States on an expired student visa, passed through a security checkpoint with most of his weapons.

Eight security workers at O'Hare International Airport were suspended, including a supervisor. Another two knives were later found in the man's checked luggage.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta recommended that United Airlines be fined and that security personnel be given more training.

"When there are screwups, there's going to be a sting," Mineta told a Chicago news conference.

Gurung appeared in court Monday on a federal charge of attempting to carry a weapon on an aircraft. He was held pending a preliminary hearing Thursday. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine

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Gurung was re-arrested by the FBI Sunday night after being released earlier by local authorities. The U.S. attorney's office said Gurung, who said he was from Nepal, was in the United States on an expired student visa.

"There is no allegation that this incident involves any suspected terrorist activity," the FBI said in a statement.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said later there was "no nefarious or suspicious purpose" related to the man's intended flight from Chicago to Omaha, Nebraska.

Same address as material witness

CNN has learned that Gurung gave the same West Hollywood Avenue apartment address in Chicago as one of those listed for Ayub Ali Khan, who is being held as a material witness in the September 11 attacks along with another man, Mohamed Jaweed Azmath.

The FBI statement played down the significance of a possible connection, and the superintendent of the apartment building said Gurung never actually lived there.

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Criminal complaint U.S. v. Gurung  (From FindLaw)
 

Khan and Azmath were arrested September 12 in Fort Worth, Texas, on an Amtrak train heading to San Antonio.

Found in their possession were $5,500 cash, two flat box-cutter type knives and hair dye. Azmath also had copies of numerous passport photos.

The hijackers of the planes that crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon used similar box cutters as weapons, authorities said.

On the day of the attacks, Khan and Azmath were on a TWA flight from Newark to San Antonio. The flight was diverted to St. Louis when the FAA closed the skies to commercial aircraft after the terrorist hijackings and attacks.

Khan and Azmath lived in Jersey City, New Jersey. But a records check by CNN found a Chicago address for Khan sandwiched between two New Jersey addresses used by him. The Chicago address is for the same apartment building listed by Gurung.

A government source told CNN that Khan never actually lived or worked in the Chicago apartment.

But, the source said, "many phone calls were made to and from that apartment, and credit card bills were paid from that address."

In an interview with CNN affiliate WLS-TV in Chicago, Gurung said he bought the weapons in Chicago to protect himself and put them in his bag by accident because he was in a hurry.

He said he was on his way to Omaha to visit friends. He said he is unemployed but worked briefly in a warehouse.

Weapons found during random search

Authorities gave the following account of the incident.

Gurung passed through the magnetometer at the security checkpoint on his way to United Airlines Flight 1085 to Omaha without raising any alarm.

Security personnel, according to Argenbright, noticed something in his pocket, and Gurung revealed he carried two small knives. Both implements were confiscated.

Nothing was detected in his carry-on luggage, which the FBI said consisted of a duffel bag, a fanny pack and a white plastic grocery-type bag.

The luggage was searched at the gate by United Airlines personnel. At that point, the United personnel discovered the seven knives.

"All seven were folding lock-blade knives with blades ranging from 2 1/4 inches to 4 inches," the FBI arrest affidavit said.

A stun gun in its box and without a battery and a small container labeled "tear gas/pepper spray" were also found.

Gurung first was arrested by Chicago authorities Saturday night and charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and attempting to board an aircraft with a weapon, both misdemeanor charges.

He was released on bond and told to appear in court December 19. The FBI later arrested him on the federal charge.

Carol Hallet, president of the Air Transport Association, said Gurung's belongings were searched at the gate because he was red-flagged by what is called the Computer Assisted Passenger Profiling system, which calls for further scrutiny of some passengers for a variety of reasons.

The CAPP system calls for extra scrutiny of some passengers, including those whose names are on a watch list and those who buy one-way tickets, pay cash, or travel frequently to certain destinations.

"This shows that the system did work," Hallett said.

Firm defends performance

Argenbright Security Inc. said its airport employees "acted according to FAA guidelines and internal company procedures," but said the eight checkpoint employees were suspended pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

The company also said it would implement new security measures that go beyond FAA regulations.

"Effective today, any individual who has a suspicious item confiscated by security personnel ... will automatically have their carry-on bags searched as well by Argenbright personnel," Bill Barbour, president of the company, said in a statement.

The security breach drew the condemnation of the nation's largest flight attendant union.

Dawn Deeks, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, said the security breach underscores the union's belief that airport security workers need to federalized -- a move the Bush administration opposes.

"We cannot move slowly on these issues," Deeks said. "This is something we need to take care of immediately."

The incident was not Argenbright's first controversy with airport security.

The firm reached a settlement earlier in October with the Justice Department in which it admitted it failed to complete court-ordered background checks on its employees.

The move came less than a year after three Argenbright managers pleaded guilty to breaking FAA rules by allowing untrained employees -- some with criminal backgrounds -- to operate airport checkpoints.

During the period the company was on probation, a Department of Transportation audit of the company's operations at 14 airports discovered the company was still employing numerous airport screeners who had been convicted of crimes that should have disqualified them.

-- CNN correspondents Jeff Flock, Susan Candiotti and Eileen O'Connor contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 


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