The Terrorists Next Door?

An FBI agent spends years investigating Middle Eastern men in Northern Virginia who want to sell guns, buy phony visas, and offer to procure a missile launcher. Are they terrorists—or just criminals talking big?

By: Harry Jaffe

Pete Ashooh is about as old school as an FBI agent gets. From the buzz cut to the thin smile to the sensible black shoes, he’s the archetypal gumshoe—Dragnet’s Jack Webb. With one difference: Ashooh is of Lebanese descent.

He drives the streets of the capital in a silver Dodge. The trunk usually holds an MP-5 submachine gun and a few bulletproof vests. “I keep my baby Glock in my gear bag,” he says one day as we cruise across the Potomac River.

In early 2002, Ashooh was summoned to a meeting at the US Attorney’s office in Alexandria. The interview room had bare walls, no windows, a conference table. Seated there was a young man who also traces his origins to the Middle East. He was wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, serving time on an embezzlement rap.

For his protection, we’ll call him Youssef.

The inmate had asked to meet with Ashooh. A prisonmate was one of the men who had helped the 9/11 hijackers get fake driver’s licenses. Ashooh had investigated them as accessories to the hijackings and gathered evidence to jail them. His affidavits on the case became part of the 9/11 Commission report.

Now Youssef told Ashooh he remembered seeing his prisonmate at a mosque in Arlington. He had seen him again at a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles office. He suspected that the DMV agent had helped the man get licenses. Could his tips be useful?

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