Media, officials act quickly to spin courthouse break-in by French-Moroccan Muslims on the FBI watch list.
At around 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 19, five foreign Muslims were arrested at a historic courthouse in San Antonio. They were found with pictures of “infrastructure” around the country including malls, government buildings and water systems. After the media reported on the bomb scare, officials reacted quickly to downplay a possible link to terrorism and the media followed suit. Now, the group of five is being depicted as a harmless group of pranksters.
Law enforcement arrived at the Bexar County Courthouse after an alarm went off. The police found that two individuals had entered the 120-year-old facility through a fire escape, while three others were inside a rented RV in front of the building. The five suspects are French-Moroccans, all in their early 20s. Their names are being withheld. The group’s photographs showed they had traveled around the country, snapping photos of sites including shopping malls and public buildings, as well as water systems, which are not exactly a typical tourist attraction.
The group had legal 90-day visas and told the authorities they arrived in New York on September 11 from London. At least three of the suspects are on an FBI watch list. The four that arrived in New York then went to New Jersey and rented an RV. They then met with the other that flew into Miami. The RV had plates from California at the time of the incident.
Another fact that is being treated as a coincidence is that the GEOINT Symposium, the “nation’s largest intelligence event of the year,” was behind held only blocks away. Dozens of intelligence officials, including the chief of the U.S. Strategic Command and undersecretary of defense for intelligence, attend and speak.
The suspects’ explanation for their illegal entry into the Bexar County Courthouse is that they wanted “to get a better view of the city”—at 1:30 in the morning. Deputy Chief Dale Bennett confirmed that they had beer bottles in their possession and two of the men acted intoxicated. He also confirmed that three of the men’s names showed up on the watch list and that their names are uncommon, making it unlikely that all three are cases of mistaken identities.
They were interviewed by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. Bexar County Sheriff’s Deputy Louis Antu tried to calm the media storm about the suspects being terrorists, saying, “We don’t have any indication that’s what they were.” The five are being prosecuted on charges of burglary.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said they appeared to “just be some guys on a prank.” The surveillance video from inside the courthouse showed them wearing sombreros and dancing with a judge’s gavel. Laura Jesse, spokeswoman for Bexar County, brushed off the possibility of a terrorism connection in remarks to the media.
“It’s pretty entertaining at least,” she said. “Usually when you think of someone trying to commit a terrorist attack it’s not with a sombrero and waving a gavel.”
“There was some alcohol involved, so that leads us to believe they might not have known what they were doing, what building they were breaking into,” said Deputy Chief Dale Bennett.
The videotape does provide reason to believe that the five Moroccans were just a bunch of drunken misfits, but the disturbing coincidences should not be dismissed. The media’s quick changing of its coverage to calm public nerves was not warranted. At the least, the facts pointing towards more insidious motives should be a part of the story.
When Robert Spencer of JihadWatch.org was on the KSAT website reading about the story, he noticed that its content changed. The shocking headline changed to, “5 Arrested in Break-in at Bexar County Courthouse.” The lead changed from saying, “Three men described by law enforcement officials as Muslims” to “Five men of foreign descent.” Readers were left ignorant of why the story was important and even of the fact that the five arrested were Muslims.
The Associated Press, likewise, said they were “five foreign nationals with French visas” that were “later described as harmless bar hoppers just goofing around.” No explanation was given as to why the FBI initially handled it as a "high priority" situation. Instead, the article’s readers were left with the impression that the authorities had an almost comical overreaction.
It may be true that the group of five French-Moroccans, three of whom have names on the FBI’s watch list, are not connected to terrorism and just made a very big mistake. However, there is more than enough reason to suspect that this isn’t the case, and the media and government officials have a duty to recognize that. There may be a bigger story here, but in part due to political correctness, it will fade away and be forgotten.
As Robert Spencer wrote, “the Hamas-linked CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations] will be so pleased.”