Authorities cordoned off part of downtown Kansas City on Friday afternoon to handle what they thought was a credible bomb threat. But after five tense hours, federal officials announced there was no bomb and no public threat.
By CHRISTINE VENDEL, DAVE HELLING and MATT CAMPBELL
The Kansas City Star
The situation, which started when a man walked into the Richard Bolling Federal Building about noon and asked if he was on a terrorist watch list, locked up downtown streets and parking lots near the Fletcher Daniels State Office Building and stranded some workers for hours.
In the end, the incident appeared to be a misunderstanding.
Local police and FBI agents acting with an abundance of caution responded appropriately with the initial limited information they had based on witness accounts of what happened, Bridget Patton, an FBI spokeswoman, said in a press release. Again, the primary concern was for the publics safety, which made the actions today necessary.
The man was identified as Wahed Moharam, who owns a cleaning business in Blue Springs called Xtreme Clean. Reached by phone Friday evening, Moharam told The Star he never threatened anybody.
All I said is I want to meet with someone because I want to clear something, Moharam said. I said Ive been told my name is on a watch list. And what happened after that, God knows.
Moharam later spoke to reporters outside his home and said he had been pulled over Thursday by a policeman who told him he was flagged because he was on a terrorist watch list. Moharam said that is why he went to the federal building Friday to inquire about his status.
Moharam said he has been in the United States for 36 years and described himself as a small-business man just trying to make a living.
I am not a bad guy, he said. Otherwise I would be arrested, and Im not.
Moharam said the FBI treated him with respect while they were questioning him and investigating the situation.
Of course, they have to do what they have to do, with what is happening in the country and in the Middle East, he said in an apparent reference to current violent protests.
Moharam had parked in a stall for disabled people in the circle drive facing the state office building at 615 E. 13th St. Officials said he walked across the street into the federal building lobby, began questioning employees and told them where he was parked.
A bomb-sniffing dog gave its handler a positive indication on his cars trunk, and police started investigating the incident as a credible threat. Police also found a gun in the car. The man told police he had fertilizer in the trunk.
Kansas City police used a robot to open the trunk and search it. The robot emptied the trunk, pulling out a green tarp, a spare tire and other items. The robot also opened a passenger door to allow officers to see inside the vehicle via a camera attached to the robot.
Moharam is known to many Kansas Citians as Helmet Man, someone who once regularly attended Chiefs games. The Chiefs revoked his tickets out of safety concerns in 2003 because he previously had been in the federal witness protection program after testifying for the government in the first World Trade Center bombing.
As the bomb threat was unfolding Friday afternoon, The Star called a phone number linked with Moharams cleaning service. A man who identified himself as Wahed answered. He said he was talking with the FBI.
Everything is OK, Wahed said. I dont have to tell you exactly where I am. The FBI requests me to hang up the phone, but I can assure you Im OK and they treat me good.
He added: And everything mistake. Everything mistake. I didnt have any bad thing anyway. Everything is just thank you and God bless you and Im OK.
It is not clear if Moharams car contained chemicals or other materials related to his cleaning service. But Steve Scott, a police dog trainer based in Ohio, said a bomb-sniffing dog might react to cleaning materials.
Its quite possible, he said. Some of those chemicals can leave traces.
Police shut down streets in the area of 12th to 13th streets and Cherry to Charlotte streets during the investigation. Police evacuated the state building and moved employees in the federal building to the north side of the building, away from the state office building parking lot. The Jackson County Jail, which is next to the state office buildings parking lot, was placed on lockdown, according to jailers.
Mounted patrol officers were on the scene all afternoon to help with traffic control and to help evacuated workers get to their vehicles or to an assembly point at 14th and Oak streets if their vehicles were parked in locked-down lots close to the state office building.
The scare was not related to false bomb reports Friday at the University of Texas and North Dakota State University in Fargo. Authorities did not find explosives at either university.
To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.