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Report: FBI raises terror alarm about South Pacific flying school


CANBERRA, Aus­tralia: U.S. author­i­ties have raised an alarm over a plan by a Ger­man cit­i­zen — linked to the Sept. 11 ter­ror attacks — to build a fly­ing school in a remote South Pacif­ic island nation, a news report said Wednes­day.

Wolf­gang Bohringer has been linked to Mohamed Atta, the lead hijack­er in the attacks on New York and Wash­ing­ton in 2001. The Ger­man arrived by yacht in Kiri­bati a year ago with plans to build a fly­ing school, but has since left the far-flung arch­i­pel­ago, Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Corp. radio report­ed.

The island where the school was planned was among the coun­try’s clos­est to the U.S. island state of Hawaii, the report said.

Kiri­b­ati’s Pres­i­dent Anote Tong said the U.S. Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion had warned him that it was sus­pi­cious of Bohringer, the ABC said.

Tong said the FBI also warned him that small coun­tries like Kiri­bati, whose 94,000 peo­ple live on 33 atolls scat­tered 4,000 kilo­me­ters (1,400 miles) along the equa­tor, could be vul­ner­a­ble to ter­ror­ists, the ABC report­ed.

“I think it demon­strates how vul­ner­a­ble small coun­tries can be,” Tong told the ABC.

“We con­fess we don’t have the resources to be able to mon­i­tor every­thing and every­body that goes through our sys­tem, but it’s made us a lot more alert, I think,” he said.

“So we do look to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries like New Zealand, Aus­tralia,” he said. “We do have rela­tions with the Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police.”

Tong could not imme­di­ate­ly avail­able to com­ment on the broad­cast report.

He told the ABC he had dis­cussed with Bohringer his plans to build a resort and fly­ing school on Fan­ning Island — an atoll with­out telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions or a func­tion­ing airstrip, but among the clos­est to Hawaii, 2,000 kilo­me­ters (1,200 miles) to the north.

Tong said he was skep­ti­cal.

“You’ve got to be quite wary of very, very good pro­pos­als,” Tong said.

New Zealand police have said Bohringer’s where­abouts are unknown.

Bill Paupe, who runs his own avi­a­tion busi­ness in Hon­olu­lu and is Kiri­b­ati’s con­sul in the Unit­ed States, said the flight school plan made no sense.

“It would be very expen­sive. You would have to (trans­port) all the peo­ple there ... and all your instruc­tors and your staff would have to be housed and fed and every­thing,” Paupe told the ABC. “It just did­n’t make any sense at all.”

The office of Aus­tralian Attor­ney-Gen­er­al Philip Rud­dock, who is respon­si­ble for the nation’s main secu­ri­ty agency, could not imme­di­ate­ly say whether the gov­ern­ment had been aware of the fly­ing school plan.

“We would con­sid­er any request for assis­tance,” said Rud­dock­’s spokesman, Michael Pel­ly.

Aus­trali­a’s High Com­mis­sion­er to the Kiri­bati could not be reached for com­ment Wednes­day. Kiri­b­ati’s con­sul to Aus­tralia, William Franken, said he was unaware of the plan.

New Zealand’s High Com­mis­sion in the Kiri­bati cap­i­tal, Tarawa, “has had no approach yet” from Kiri­bati author­i­ties for fur­ther help with secu­ri­ty, said Deputy High Com­mis­sion­er Den­nis Por­te­ous.

“We are aware of the report, and will just wait to see what devel­op­ments hap­pen,” Por­te­ous said.

New Zealand police coun­tert­er­ror­ism head, Assis­tant Com­mis­sion­er Jon White, said if Kiri­bati makes a request for secu­ri­ty assis­tance, “we’ll take it seri­ous­ly.”

The two nations are mem­bers of a South Pacif­ic police chiefs’ group, aimed at assist­ing small­er states with secu­ri­ty and oth­er issues.


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