Two men arrested in incident at TVA Dam, investigation continues

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Was an Egyptian national simply taking photographs of an American friend silhouetted against the backdrop of the TVA Dam sometime between 4 and 5 a.m. Sunday, or is there more to it?
   This is a question the Tennessee Valley Authority and the FBI are asking following the arrest of two Egyptian nationals Monday in Virginia.
   Donald W. Thompson, Jr., Special Agent in charge of the FBI's Richmond, Virginia division, said the two men were arrested without incident by agents from the Roanoke Resident Agency and officers of the Roanoke Police Department. They were identified as: Ahmed Helmy Mostafa, 23, also known as Ahmed Mohammed Elsakaan and Ahmed Mohamed Helmy Elsakaan, of Knoxville, and his brother, Hatem M. Elsakaan, 26, also of Knoxville.
   A third individual, Abou Saleh, also known as Alla Abdel Moati Sabe, 25, of Knoxville, was detained for possible immigration violations and is in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Roanoke.
   Gil Francis, TVA media spokesman, said Tuesday that a TVA federal law enforcement officer was on patrol when he saw a man and a woman at a scenic area pull-off near the dam.
   "The guy was taking pictures of the woman and the dam was in the background," Francis said. Because of the unusual time and circumstances, the officer talked to them and ran a check through the state computer on the license of the car, and their identification, and found nothing unusual. The vehicle, which belonged to the woman -- whose name was not released -- was not stolen, and because the two were not doing anything illegal, the officer could not detain them, Francis said.
   The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer was down at the time the officer called in, so a nationwide warrants check was not possible.
   As soon as the officer returned to his station, he again called in an NCIC check and determined that Mostafa was wanted in Virginia. The officer immediately notified the FBI, which in turn notified local law enforcement, and a BOLO (be on the lookout) for Mostafa was issued, Francis said.
   Mostafa and his brother, Elsakaan, were arrested around 5 p.m. at a Greyhound bus station in Roanoke and were scheduled for an initial appearance today in that city. Both men were charged in criminal complaints filed in U.S. District Court in Virginia's Eastern District.
   The complaint alleges that in 2000, Mostafa and Elsakaan used fraudulent documentation reflecting a Richmond address to acquire Virginia identification documents and Virginia driver's licenses.
   A prior investigation was initiated in March 2002 by the Richmond division of the FBI and Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, which is a participant on the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.
   On Sunday, the FBI's Knoxville division obtained information indicating that an individual believed to be Mostafa was in the Knoxville area and then issued a news release asking for the public's assistance in locating Mostafa and Elsakaan.
   Special Agent Randall Crigger of the FBI's Knoxville office said the agency is trying to determine whether the two men are linked to terrorist groups.
   "The red flags are raised simply because of the suspicious activity here at Norris Dam - taking photographs between 4 and 5 in the morning. So our investigation will continue, although there currently are no charges here in Knoxville," Crigger said. Our investigation is to try to determine what they were doing here in Knoxville -- if they were committing any criminal activity."
   Crigger said he has not determined why the two men left Knoxville and did not have details on the type of camera Mostafa was using.
   TVA's Francis said his agency has maintained heightened security since Sept. 11, restricting access, closing visitor centers, extending boundaries at its nuclear sites, and adding additional security officers and checkpoints.
   "What happened Sunday shows you that the officers are paying very close attention to anything that's unusual," he said.
   Norris Dam is made of reinforced concrete and steel. "It would take a significant amount of material to hurt that structure. And the amount of material it would take would be so great that you just couldn't carry it on your person to the dam site; you'd have to have some way to haul this material in and place it strategically, and you can't do that without being observed," Francis said.
   While there are no-fly zones around TVA's nuclear plants, there is no radar at hydroelectric dams throughout the TVA system to detect unusual flight activity.
   However, unlike the World Trade Center, which was built of glass and I-beam steel, "If someone were to fly their plane into the dam, they may chip off some concrete, but the dam's not going anywhere," Francis said. TVA has emergency plans in place in the event of problems.
   What happened at the World Trade Center was "the heat from the combustion of the jet fuel melted it," according to Francis. And the Pentagon, though well-constructed, also is not solid concrete and steel, he said.
   "The only thing you can do is take every precaution you can take, and certainly we're doing that."