The office of the Louisiana sheriff who’s forming a citizen militia to defend the parish in the event of a terrorist attack says it has information about possible Islamic terrorist activity in its midst.
“We understand, based on some intelligence that we’ve collected over the last year, year and a half, that there have been cells and people operating even within our parish that have been trained as terrorists or went overseas to be trained as terrorists,” Ed Baswell, a spokesman for the Bossier Parrish Sheriff’s Office, told TPMmuckraker this morning.
“So this is not something that’s far, far away,” Baswell added. “This is something that is a possibility here in Bossier Parish.”
Baswell made clear that the terrorist threat was part of the motivation for the parish’s controversial “Operation Exodus.” As we reported yesterday, Sheriff Larry Deen has announced a plan to arm volunteers with shotguns, riot shields, batons, and a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on a “war wagon,” and has begun training them in “hand-to-hand combat” and other techniques, as part of a program to provide security in the event of a terrorist attack or civic unrest.
Bossier Parish is the home of Barksdale Air Force Base, from where President Bush addressed the nation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Baswell said that his office believed that the suspected terrorists had been operating in Bossier Parish at one time but have since left. “We have had indications that there have been some that have come and gone from the parish,” he said.
“Islamic terrorists have been in and out,” he said. “And we’ve had intelligence information that confirmed that for us.”
Baswell added that the sheriff’s office had worked with the Feds on the threat. “A lot of our intelligence information has come in conjunction with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies,” he said. The FBI’s Louisiana field office told TPMmuckraker they would look into the claim.
Baswell said it wasn’t entirely clear what the suspected terrorists were up to. “We didn’t get the impression they were plotting an attack,” he said. “We got the impression they were in training or headed for training overseas.” He stressed: “We don’t believe in any way shape or form that there is any sort of imminent threat.”
Baswell described the intelligence as “just tidbits of information we’ve gotten over time.”
Baswell said that the 9/11 attacks had orginally given Sheriff Deen the idea to come up with an emergency security plan. “This plan really came into being because of 9/11, and the sheriff’s belief that if there were a natural or man-made disaster, that the federal government would be so tied up … that they might not be able to send help to Bossier Parish,” he said. “So the sheriff wanted to Bossier Parish to be self sufficient.”
But Baswell was eager to make a larger point. “It tells us that these are the kinds of thing we can’t assume are happening far, far away,” he said. “Terrorists can tend to strike anywhere and everywhere.”
“There’s not a state of paranoia, or anything like that,” he added.