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U.S. PRISONER MOVED FROM BATAVIA IN TERROR PROBE

A federal prisoner was quietly moved from Batavia to New York City over the weekend for questioning about last week's terrorist air hijackings, law enforcement officials said Monday.

The prisoner -- whose name, nationality and possible connection to the air terror case were not released -- was moved under strict secrecy and extreme security from the Buffalo Detention Facility in Batavia to a jail in New York City.

About 450 federal prisoners -- mostly illegal aliens -- are held in the Batavia facility.

"Nobody in local law enforcement seems to know anything about this guy, except that he was moved out over the weekend, and it has something to do with the terrorist cases," said one law enforcement official.

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, said he learned of the prisoner's transfer on Monday but does not know how significant the prisoner might be in the terrorist investigation.

"Apparently, there was a very high level of concern to make that (move) happen," said Reynolds, who spoke to reporters after a briefing Monday afternoon at the Buffalo FBI Headquarters.

Officials cautioned that the mere fact that someone is being questioned about the terrorism acts does not necessarily mean he or she has any knowledge about the crimes. Authorities said the man is one of dozens who have been detained by immigration authorities since last Tuesday's hijackings and is now being questioned to see if he has any information about the crimes.

"It's probably the biggest criminal investigation in our history, and every possible lead will be looked at," said one investigator.

Special Agent Peter Ahearn, who heads the Buffalo FBI office, declined to comment on the prisoner. So did M. Frances Holmes, who oversees the Batavia facility as Buffalo district director of the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service.

Ahearn would only say that immigration and customs agents in Western New York have detained a number of illegal aliens in the past week, and that every possible connection to the terrorists is being closely examined.

He said that an apparent case of mistaken identity led to a New York Times report indicating that one of the suspects in last week's hijackings is a former Buffalo resident.

The Times reported Monday that Abdulaziz Alomari, the alleged pilot of the jetliner that hit the World Trade Center's north tower, listed Buffalo as his most recent address. No specific address was given in the report.

"There's not any truth to it. We haven't found any information that any of the terrorists lived in Western New York," said Buffalo FBI spokesman Paul M. Moskal. "This is bad information."

"Alomari is apparently a very common name in parts of the Middle East, and the fact that some of the terrorists may have been using false ID is one of the problems we're up against," Ahearn said.

According to Moskal, FBI agents have investigated dozens of tips and possible leads in Western New York but so far have found no local connection to the Sept. 11 crimes.

Moskal said the FBI has discounted any possible connection between the terrorists and a car with Texas license plates that was found abandoned near the Ellicott Street bus terminal on Thursday. Some maps and Arabic language documents were found inside the car, but the FBI spokesman said agents are satisfied the car had no ties to the suicide attacks.

Although no local ties have been established, federal agents remain on high alert for the possibility that some of the suspects involved in the terrorism plot may pass through this region on their way to Canada.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jack F. Quinn, R-Hamburg, said the extraordinary events of the past week prompted Congress to authorize $40 billion in emergency aid, $20 billion more than President Bush requested.

Speaking before about 150 people at Canisius College Monday night as part of the William H. Fitzpatrick Lecture Series, Quinn said substantially more money is sure to follow.

"From our discussions in the chamber Friday night, I believe that $40 billion is just a down payment to correct the situation in New York City," he said. "Some numbers we hear are $250 (billion) and $300 billion. Congress is ready to provide the president with the money he needs."

Quinn said the willingness of Congress to provide that money demonstrates its commitment to backing the president in times of crisis.

"This is something I have not experienced in nine years down there -- the amount of unity behind the president," he said. "There's been a sea change in atmosphere down there."

Quinn also said his experience in Washington last Tuesday was "like something out of a movie." He related a series of security measures that members of Congress used during the early hours of the attack, ranging from coded telephone messages to secret congressional briefings in the Capitol police station.

"One thing that's come through over and over from all agencies is that it's too early to let our guard down just yet," he said, adding he expects Congress to address new airport security measures this week.

"The world changed that day," Quinn said. "The days of quick and convenient travel are over."

The congressman also said that with the U.S. airline industry facing dire straits as a result of the crisis, Congress may be forced to craft some type of emergency aid package.

"The federal government believes it has a role to do that," he said.

News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this report

Cannot distribute vertically e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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