Possible plot against Jeb Bush investigated
Men suspected of planning truck bombing of capital
MIAMI, Jan. 11 — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI are investigating a possible plot to kill Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, younger brother of President Bush, with a truck bomb in the state capital Tallahassee.
IN AN ARTICLE posted on the Miami Herald’s Web site late Thursday, the newspaper quoted law enforcement officials as saying agents had been conducting 24-hour surveillance on at least four South Florida men with Arab names who might be suspects in the case.
Shortly afterward, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) issued a statement confirming the investigation. The statement said the investigation was triggered by letter addressed to Gov. Bush and received in the Capitol late December 2001.
“All threats against Governor Bush are taken seriously,” FDLE Commissioner James T. Moore said. “FDLE is conducting a thorough investigation in conjunction with the FBI and local law enforcement authorities. During this heightened state of alert in our nation and Florida, all necessary security precautions are being taken to guarantee the Governor’s safety.”
The United States has been on heightened alert for possible attacks since hijacked passenger plane attacks on Sept. 11 killed more than 3,000 people.
The paper said that information about the plot was based on a tip from a jailed confidential informant that the men who were reportedly under surveillance were trying to contract someone to drive a truckload of explosives to Tallahassee and blow up the governor.
But another agent said that the confidential informant, jailed on unrelated charges, might not be credible because he might be trying to cut a deal with prosecutors in a pending criminal case, the paper reported.
The informant was able to supply police with the names of three people who were on a law enforcement watch list, along with the description of a truck that agents stopped and searched, the Herald said. The truck did not contain explosives, but bomb-sniffing dogs alerted officials to the presence of possible traces of bomb-making materials, it added.
The truck was seized for further examination. One of the men being sought for questioning was pulled over on Interstate 95 in Broward County north of Miami on Thursday evening for an illegal lane change, the Herald said.
Florida Highway Patrol Lt. John Bagnardi said he had been alerted to watch for the car and pull it over for any traffic infractions. FDLE agents were called in, and the man, whose identity was not released, was questioned. He was issued a traffic citation and allowed to leave the area during the evening. His name was not released, at the urging of FDLE agents.
Jeb Bush, who was in Washington at a fund-raising event with the president on Wednesday, traveled to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on Thursday raising money for his campaign for reelection later this year. He was due back in the city later on Thursday.
The Herald said that in October, Gov. Bush’s office posted an armed guard, but that the governor had tried to keep his security as low-key as possible.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, dozens of FBI agents fanned out over south Florida, finding that some of the 19 men named by the FBI as the hijackers in the airborne assaults had lived in Florida in the months leading up to the attacks and had attended Florida flight schools.
MSNBC.com’s Jonathan Dube and Reuters contributed to this story.