CLEVELAND (APS) – FBI agents scoured the city of Cleveland yesterday after receiving tips that Osama bin Laden incited an uprising at last week’s Cleveland Browns football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"We are asking all Clevelanders to shave and to cease wearing headgear in order to help agents narrow the search," Detective Mike Reynolds of the FBI’s Northeastern Ohio office said.
Rumors that bin Laden was in the Cleveland area surfaced soon after the uncharacteristic outburst of emotion by fans at Cleveland’s December 16 football game against Jacksonville, during which a riot among the fans caused officials to lose control of the game, which was cancelled with 48 seconds remaining. Play was eventually resumed when NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue intervened and required the two teams to finish out the game, which Jacksonville won 15-10.
Thousands of suspicious citizens, watching video of the fan riot on ESPN, phoned FBI offices to report sighting a bare-chested man resembling the ousted Al Qaeda leader screaming at officials, throwing plastic bottles on the field, while waving a sign that said, "I am Osama bin Laden" at the camera.
The riot started in an area of the stadium known as the "Dog Pound," where animal rights activists have gathered for Brown football games for years. Dog Pound members frequently arrive early for bowls of strawberries and cream and to discuss Sartre before games.
Longtime Dog Pound member Anthony Kowalski is among those who are confident that bin Laden, along with high-level Al Qaeda officials, was sitting in his block at the Jacksonville game. "I thought I saw bin Laden a few seats down from me," said the tool and die worker from Youngstown. "I was sipping a Chardonnay when I first noticed him, but I didn’t say anything because it is impolite to make value judgments based on other people’s appearances.
"Besides, we take pride in the fact that international fugitives rarely attend Browns games, much less sit in the Dog Pound," Kowalski added. "Criminals meet frequently at Redskins games in Washington, but they are elected officials." In contrast, Cleveland Stadium rarely attracts such deranged characters, he said, quoting Shakespeare in The Tempest. "There’s nothing ill can dwell in such a temple: If the ill spirit have so fair a house, Good things will strive to dwell with ’t.’ "
Attorney General John Ashcroft declined to comment when asked if any members of terrorist cells found operating in the United States since September 11th were known to be Cleveland Brown season ticket holders. Nonetheless, under new powers granted to him by Congress, Ashcroft ordered all Cleveland Brown ticket holders to be held without trial until military tribunals can be organized. "Habeas Corpus must be revoked in Cleveland in order to protect our freedom," he said.
Officials with the Cleveland Browns reported that three season ticket holders are listed with the names O. bin Laden are listed as season ticket holders, one of which has a billing address in Kabul, Afghanistan. However, Lori Snipes, assistant manager for the Cleveland Brown ticket office, refused to speculate about whether the Al Qaeda leader provoked the riot at the Jacksonville game.
"Bin Laden is a very common name," Snipes said. "If it turns out that one of our ticket holders is wanted for international war crimes trials, then he would likely lose many of the privileges that go with season ticket holder status."
FBI officials, refusing to comment on the record, expressed surprise that bin Laden might have been able to escape the intricate cave system in the Afghan mountains and attend an NFL football game without notice. "Given his anti-Christian bias, we had heightened security at all [New Orleans] Saints and [Arizona] Cardinals games," said one official. "That he might have shown up in Cleveland reflects the success of the new federal airline safety precautions."