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FBI checks possible Hernando link to terrorist

A nurse says a terrorist on the "most wanted'' list might have been treated at Oak Hill Hospital this month.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 17, 2001


SPRING HILL -- A tip that one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists might have gotten treatment at Oak Hill Hospital on Oct. 7 has brought the international hunt to Hernando County.

"The FBI agent told me they have not made a link at this time," Oak Hill chief executive Jaime Wesolowski said Tuesday. "They're still checking into some things."

Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Joe Paez confirmed the investigation remains active, with a "couple of agents" assigned to the case. No one from the FBI Tampa field office returned phone calls.

A spokeswoman from the agency's national press office said the FBI has received hundreds of thousands of tips about terrorism since Sept. 11, and it takes each one seriously.

Details of this case are sketchy because the FBI has told all involved not to release any information -- particularly names.

But here's what hospital and sheriff's officials did say:

An emergency room nurse thought she recognized one of the 22 terrorists on the FBI list released Oct. 11 as a patient who had come into the hospital for treatment four days earlier.

The name on the wanted list did not match the name given by the patient to the hospital, Wesolowski said. He would not release the names, or say why the patient had come to the emergency room.

The nurse was reasonably certain about the match, though, Wesolowski said. So she called the Sheriff's Office on Oct. 11, Maj. Mearl Letts confirmed.

The Sheriff's Office gathered basic information and then turned all its reports over to the FBI, Paez said. Agents remained on the case Tuesday afternoon.

Citing national security concerns, no one provided any more specifics than that.

"We're cooperating fully with the authorities," Wesolowski said. "I think (the nurse) did the right thing, regardless of whether it's negative or positive."

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