Maintenance worker's attempt to buy ambulance spurs terror fears

Friday, June 21st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A Middle Eastern maintenance worker who said he wanted to buy a replica ambulance to store his tools triggered a warning in two states that terrorists might try to use emergency vehicles in an attack.

Fears about the man abated after law officers interviewed him Thursday and found no sinister purpose, the FBI said. A second man was to be interviewed Friday.

Law enforcement officials were contacted about two weeks ago, after the two men walked into Movie Time Cars Inc., a Lyndhurst company that rents replicas of ambulances and police cars to TV and film producers. The men offered to pay cash to buy a replica ambulance, said Joe Sargo, the company's owner.

``They said they had cash and wanted to buy an ambulance,'' Sargo said. ``I was suspicious because most of my clients don't walk in and offer cash to buy ambulances. I told them we couldn't do that, and they left.''

The men quickly left without providing any identification, but an employee jotted down the license plate number of the delivery truck they were driving and called police, Sargo said.

That triggered a series of alerts to police and rescue agencies in northern New Jersey and New York that terrorists might seek to obtain and use emergency vehicles or look-alikes to carry out attacks, said Sandra Carroll, a spokeswoman for the Newark FBI office.

She described the men as Middle Eastern, but declined to say if they were U.S. citizens or give their names.

Before the man was interviewed, information from Lyndhurst police about the incident ``was combined with some intelligence that ambulances or police cars may be a target,'' Carroll said.

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly played down the significance of the Lyndhurst incident, but said authorities nationwide are investigating the possible use of emergency vehicles as terrorist weapons. He refused to give details.

Movie Time does not have actual ambulances or police cars, but the replicas are authentic enough that they can pass for the real thing, Sargo said.

``For all intents and purposes, what they wanted looked like an ambulance,'' he said.