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Incident at airport, report about alleged al-Qaida operative in Tappahannock have town buzzing
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Date published: 1/2/2004
By MICHAEL ZITZ
A New Year's Eve incident at Tappahannock Municipal Airport had townspeople talking yesterday, but there was little anxiety about reports linking the village of 2,000 to al-Qaida terrorism.
According to the FBI, an illegal alien tried to enter the airport late Tuesday afternoon, then fled.
And the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported yesterday that unnamed sources said a Tappahannock resident has been under investigation for some time on suspicion of financing or assisting al-Qaida.
Airport Manager John McDonald said the Virginia State Police pursued a car that tried to enter the airport grounds, then sped off at about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. State police overtook the car and stopped it.
"I don't know what happened," McDonald said yesterday. "They're pretty tight-lipped."
William Lowery IV, co-owner of Lowery's Seafood Restaurant, a Tappahannock landmark, said customers were coming in and talking about the airport incident, but most aren't worried.
"We don't think we have to worry about [the airport] being used to blow up little Tappahannock," Lowery said.
The state police and the FBI confirmed the incident, but said it's no reason for concern.
"He did try to gain access," State Police Superintendent W. Steve Flaherty said yesterday about the driver of the car. "I don't know how, or what turned him around."
"We don't know why he got nervous and left," Flaherty said. "There's nothing to it. No significance. No arrest, no charges at this point."
Supervisory Special Agent Lawrence J. Barry, the spokesman for the FBI's Richmond office, said the man who tried to get into the airport was an illegal alien.
"It had nothing to do with terrorism," Barry said. "It's an immigration matter, and I assume it's been turned over to the INS."
Flaherty said state police special agents assigned to monitor the airport stopped the man, but he did not know how long the vehicle had to be pursued.
He said the man is not considered a person of interest--"certainly not at this point."
Essex County Sheriff Stanley Clarke said yesterday that he was unaware of the airport incident.
Clarke also said he was unaware of any Tappahannock resident being investigated for alleged al-Qaida ties, as the Times-Dispatch reported.