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FBI searches Flushing in terrorism raid

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An early morning terrorism raid rattled Flushing residents Monday as dozens of federal agents stormed three apartments in the Queens neighborhood searching for explosives and evidence of ties to Sept. 11 perpetrators al-Qaida, witnesses and authorities said.

Sources familiar with the investigation said the FBI executed searches on apartments at 41-18 Parsons Blvd., 144-67 41st Ave. and 29-49 137th St. at around 2 a.m. Monday after a man with suspected ties to al-Qaida visited residents of the homes in recent weeks.

Authorities said no arrests had been made and no explosives had been found as a result of the raids, which were conducted in tandem by the FBI and the New York Police Department Terrorism Task Force. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Tuesday the NYPD has been told by federal officials to be on the lookout for materials that could be used in homemade explosive devices.

Akhari Amanullah, a 30-year-old yellow-taxi driver, said he was detained by the FBI for three hours after federal agents broke down his door early Monday morning.

“They held a gun to my face .... I don’t know what they were looking for,” Amanullah said. “They had me for about three hours.”

Amanullah, an Afghan immigrant who said he has lived and worked in the United States for more than 10 years, was released but his laptop computer and cell phone were taken as evidence by the FBI. He said his two roommates were also detained by authorities.

“All of us here are workers. We all work very hard,” he said. “I’m just glad to be home. It has been a very, very bad day for me.”

Ramiz Berisha, the building’s superintendent, said he received no advanced warning of the investigation.

“They just came in, got a few guys and left,” Berisha said.

Amanullah said federal agents were most interested in an acquaintance who had stayed at his apartment last week. Sources said they believe the man, who was not named, was suspected by the FBI of having ties to al-Qaida and had recently traveled to Queens from Denver, Col., prompting the searches.

“I was scared,” Amanullah said. “All of us are from the same province in Afghanistan. Believe me, I don’t know why they were here. I don’t want to bring any trouble on myself.”

Arlene Fleishman, the co-op president at Linden Tower 4 at 29-49 137th St., was informed of a raid in her building at about 5 a.m. She said authorities targeted a Bosnian Muslim family of four — a mother, father and two adult children — in the building who had lived there for more than three years.

“They ransacked the apartment,” she said. “The mother and father went back up to the apartment, but I don’t know what happened to the children. I saw the father, he looked very, very disturbed. The mother was starting to clean up.”

Fleishman watched surveillance footage of the raids and said she was shocked.

“The most frightening thing was we saw this terror force coming in full gear,” she said, noting the agents were carrying large firearms. “They just kept flowing in and flowing in.”

Fleishman said the family had always been friendly and good tenants in the building and said she worries raids like this could portray them unfairly.

“They are a very nice family. I don’t know if they could possibly be up to anything bad like this,” she said. “I understand it’s for our protection, but I just feel bad if it’s nothing. That if these people are innocent this could just cast such a bad stigma over them.”

John Choe, co-president of the Mitchell Linden Civic Association in Flushing, agreed.

“We need to make sure we don’t jump to conclusions here,” he said. “Flushing is a diverse community and we need to make sure we don’t start treating people unfairly before we know anything simply because of their religion.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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