Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Worker Spoke of Jihad, Agency Says

Source: New York Times, By SCOTT SHANE, 05/10/2010

WASHINGTON — A New Jersey man accused of joining Al Qaeda in Yemen spoke openly of militant views while working at American nuclear plants, according to a report by the inspector general of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that proposes tightening personnel security rules.

The man, Sharif Mobley, who is charged by Yemeni authorities with murdering a hospital guard during an escape attempt in March, said he told others in his labor union: “We are brothers in the union, but if a holy war comes, look out,” said the report from the inspector general, Hubert T. Bell.

Fellow nuclear plant workers said Mr. Mobley had referred to non-Muslims as “infidels” and had visited “unusual” Web sites on his personal computer, including one showing a mushroom cloud, the report said.

The report, prepared at the request of Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, recommended improving plant employee training on how to detect and report “behaviors associated with terrorist intent.” It proposed that regulatory commission officials should get direct access to a nuclear industry personnel database and suggested more frequent matching of employee names against terrorist watch lists.

The inspector general also suggested requiring disclosure of any foreign travel by nuclear plant employees so that they could be questioned about their destinations and activities abroad.

Much of the report was withheld from the public release because it “revealed security vulnerabilities” at nuclear facilities, said Stephen D. Dingbaum, the commission’s assistant inspector general for audits.

Senator Schumer said in a statement on Monday that the Mobley case “showed that we had to devise and implement a much tougher security system to protect our nuclear plants from infiltration.” He praised the inspector general’s report for offering “concrete, actionable recommendations that can be put in place immediately.”

Holly Harrington, an N.R.C. spokeswoman, said commission officials had been working for months on the issues identified in the inspector general’s audit.

The American-born Mr. Mobley, 26, worked between 2002 and 2008 as a laborer at six nuclear plants in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Ms. Harrington said that he performed “routine labor, carrying supplies and helping with maintenance” and that the commission “is not aware of any safety concerns” regarding his employment.

The inspector general found that Mr. Mobley did have unescorted access to the interior of the plants but did not have access to computers or high-security information.

To have unescorted access to secure areas of a nuclear power plant, a person must undergo a background investigation, including a criminal record check and a psychological assessment. Employees are investigated at least every five years, the inspector general report said.

The portions of the report released publicly do not say what was revealed in background investigations of Mr. Mobley.

Edwin Lyman, who studies nuclear safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said existing rules did not account for temporary workers who migrate from plant to plant, as Mr. Mobley did, doing maintenance work during scheduled shutdowns. No new background investigation is required when a worker has been off the job for several months, he said.

"This report does not go far enough to close that loophole, in our opinion," Mr. Lyman said.

Mr. Mobley told friends in 2008 that he planned to move to Yemen to study Arabic and Islam. American and Yemeni officials said he connected there with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the branch of the terrorist network in Yemen.

Mr. Mobley was arrested by Yemeni security officers in January and was taken in March to a hospital in Sana, the capital, after complaining of illness. On March 7, according to Yemeni officials, he grabbed a security guard’s gun and tried to escape, fatally shooting one guard. He remains in Yemeni custody on capital murder charges.

His lawyers have admitted that Mr. Mobley was in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born radical cleric in Yemen who has been linked to several terrorist plots and has called for attacks on the United States. But the lawyers have said Mr. Mobley denies being involved in any terrorist plot.

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