9-11 Terror Suspect Hiding in Israel
July 31, 2002
The Israeli owner of the Mossad "front" company who fled to Israel after his "movers" were caught filming the World Trade Center attacks remains at large although the FBI, which has an office in Tel Aviv, has his name on its terror suspect list.
A leaked "FBI Suspect List" circulated among financial institutions in Italy shows that Dominik Suter, the Israeli owner of Urban Moving Systems who fled in haste to Israel after 9-11, is among those suspected of being behind the terror attacks. Despite the presence of an FBI office in Tel Aviv and the "intimate relationship" between U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies, Suter apparently remains out-of-reach. The suspect list is classified "Law Enforcement Sensitive" and is periodically updated. The list published on an Italian website was dated 22 May 2002 and was accompanied by two documents from February: an explanatory letter from the Italian state agency engaged in fighting money laundering, the Ufficio Italiano dei Cambi, and a distribution list from Assifact, an Italian association for factoring. A factoring company finances accounts of businesses. "If we deal with anybody on this list, we are obliged to notify the authorities," Liliana Corti of the Milano-based Assifact told me.
While Dominik Suter's name on the list, oddly his Israeli nationality is not. Three addresses, two in New Jersey and one in Sherman Oaks, California, are given, as is his Social Security number. The year 1970 is provided for his date of birth. When I asked the FBI about the list, a spokeswoman said, "We're not going to validate your questions by talking about the list. You are not supposed to have it. It is not for public consumption." Asked about Israeli cooperation regarding suspects being harbored in the state of Israel, Bill Carter, Unit Chief of the FBI's National Press Office in Washington, said Israel was "under no obligation" to turn over suspects and that it did so only as a "matter of good will."
Carter told me to contact the FBI office in Tel Aviv for information regarding any extradition request for Suter. Robert Geeslin, an FBI agent, is the "deputy legal attaché" and has an office in the U.S. Embassy in Israel. Geeslin's office, however, refused to discuss the matter.
I then spoke with Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli government in Washington. Regev said the U.S. and Israeli authorities have "an intimate relationship" that is "excellent" and "on-going." The "close cooperation" between Israel and the U.S. includes sharing intelligence information. While I repeatedly asked Regev if Israeli authorities would cooperate by apprehending a terror suspect for questioning by the FBI, three times Regev avoided answering the question.
The first week after 9-11, I wrote about the 5 exuberant Israelis seen celebrating while filming the attacks on the World Trade Center. Although the men claimed to be movers working for the New Jersey-based Urban Moving Systems, it soon became clear that they were actually Israeli intelligence agents. One of the men later said, "Our purpose was to document the event."
Forward, a respected Jewish newspaper in New York, reported in March 2002 that the five Israelis were "conducting a Mossad surveillance mission." The men had first been observed exulting while filming the attacks on the WTC from the roof of a white moving van in the parking lot of a New Jersey apartment building across the river from lower Manhattan. "They seemed to be taking a movie," the resident who noticed them said. The men were taking video or photos of themselves with the World Trade Center burning in the background, she said. What struck her were the expressions on the men's faces. "They were like happy, you know … they didn't look shocked to me. I thought it was very strange," she said.
The moving van belonged to a front company called Urban Moving Systems. Around 4 p.m. on Sept. 11, the van was pulled over, and five Israelis: Sivan and Paul Kurzberg, Yaron Shmuel, Oded Ellner and Omer Marmari, all Israelis between 22 and 27 years old, were arrested at gunpoint. One had $4,700 in cash hidden in his sock while another carried two foreign passports. Box cutters were found in the van. One of the Israeli agents spoke on an Israeli television show after being deported, saying, "The fact of the matter is we are coming from a country that experiences terror daily. Our purpose was to document the event."
The case was turned over to the FBI's Foreign Counterintelligence Section after the names of two of the five Israelis showed up on a CIA-FBI database of foreign intelligence operatives. At that point, he said, the bureau took control of the investigation and launched a Foreign Counterintelligence Investigation, or FCI, because the FBI believed Urban Moving Systems was a cover for an Israeli intelligence operation. "An FCI means not only that it was serious but also that it was handled at a very high level and very tightly," a former official told Forward. "The FBI came to the conclusion at the end of its investigation that the five Israelis arrested in New Jersey last September were conducting a Mossad surveillance mission and that their employer, Urban Moving Systems of Weehawken, N.J., served as a front," Forward reported on March 15.
While the FBI searched the company's Weehawken, N.J., offices, removing boxes of documents and a dozen computer hard drives, the Israeli owner of the company, Dominik Otto Suter, was allowed to quickly flee the country. After one brief interview, FBI agents tried to interview Suter only to discover that he had cleared out of his New Jersey home and fled to Israel. Authorities confirmed that Urban Moving Systems was a Mossad front, whose "main office" was nothing but a mailbox address in midtown Manhattan. ABC News reporters visited the company's New Jersey warehouse saying, "It looked as if it had been shut down in a big hurry. Cell phones were lying around; office phones were still connected; and the property of dozens of clients remained in the warehouse." The state of New Jersey seized the property and has a lawsuit pending against Urban Moving Systems and Suter, an Israeli citizen.
The Israelis had been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, for overstaying their tourist visas and working in the United States illegally. Two weeks after their arrest, an immigration judge ordered them to be deported, however, however, FBI and CIA officials in Washington put a hold on the case. The five Israeli agents were held in detention for more than two months while some were held in solitary confinement for 40 days and given as many as seven lie-detector tests. One of the Israelis, Paul Kurzberg, refused to take a lie-detector test for 10 weeks and then failed it, according to his lawyer. After 71 days in jail, a deal was struck between Israeli and U.S. government officials and the five Israeli spies were put on a plane and deported to Israel on November 20.