As I thought back on it, I had only lived in the States on two occasions for an extended period of time in the last twenty years. During both of those times, I had been on an assignment. Oddly enough, both assignments had been in Oklahoma.
In 1995, I was part of a three-man team sent by the Agency to investigate the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The FBI was the main investigative body, but the Agency was required to send its own agents after receiving reports that Timothy McVeigh, the man apprehended immediately after the bombing, had been seen associating with a Middle Eastern man prior to leaving his Ryder truck full of explosives parked in front of the Murrah Building. When the bomb went off, he’d killed 168 people and wounded hundreds more.
A woman in Blackwell, Oklahoma had given my team a lead to a group of Arabs who appeared to have had ties to McVeigh. At least one of them had been seen with him at a gun show about a month before he’d rented the truck. We later located the guy, an Iraqi, and a couple of his buddies in Norman, Oklahoma where they had been attending The University of Oklahoma.
After setting up surveillance on him, we discovered he was part of a much larger Arab community in Norman, including some Saudis and Iranians. Most of them were college students, but several held down jobs and had families in the area.
Danny Jarrar, one of the other Arabic-speaking operatives on my team, became convinced the men under surveillance weren’t really students but terrorists in training, maybe even members of a sleeper cell. However, he didn’t have any evidence to back up his theory, and he couldn’t convince anyone else in our division, so after we reported our findings to the FBI, we left Oklahoma.
Much later, out of curiosity, I had looked up the FBI findings on the Iraqi who had been seen with McVeigh. The Arab student had been labeled an “innocent encounter.” It was obvious to me the FBI had never pursued this lead. Instead, they’d focused on McVeigh’s friends and acquaintances.
However, Danny's suspicions about something going on with the Arabic students in Norman had been justified when the Agency discovered Abdul Murad, a former student at OU and an al-Qaeda operative, was the person responsible for a suicide attack in Yemen in 1996.
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