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Charges brought against man who made threats on Amtrak train

(The following appeared on the Star-Ledger website on February 1, 2010.)

NEWARK, N.J. — An Elizabeth man who alarmed fellow passengers in Colorado by allegedly talking about terrorist threats on a cell phone faces a felony charge of endangering public transportation.

Ojore Nuru Lutalo, 64, who was released from the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton last year, was arrested Tuesday on an Amtrak passage from Los Angeles to Chicago. Passengers alerted authorities after allegedly hearing the man mention al-Qaida and make threats in a cell phone conversation.

After being freed Thursday on $30,000 bail, Lutalo - also known as Leroy Bunting - denied mentioning al-Qaida or making any threats.

"I know better than to make bomb threats," he told The Associated Press Friday. "I never made a threat against Amtrak. I'm looking to beat these charges because they have no foundation." Lutalo was returning from Los Angeles where he spoke at an Anarchist Bookfair.

Passengers told authorities they overheard Lutalo talking to an unknown person about how he hadn't killed anyone yet, and that he talked about going to jail, according to a police affidavit obtained by the Pueblo Chieftain, a newspaper in Southern Colorado.

Passengers say Lutalo said, "We have to work in small groups. They can hold you for 18 months. Do they have security on these trains? Are you with me or not?"

One passenger said he heard Lutalo allegedly mention al-Qaida, saying, "17th century tactics won't work, we have 21st century tactics."

Lutalo had a blanket over his body so the conductor could not see what he was doing. After passengers alerted the conductor, Lutalo was arrested in southeastern Colorado.

Lutalo, at the time, was not armed, authorities said. FBI spokeswoman Kathy Wright said the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Colorado Springs has been notified but that no federal charges are expected.

The suspect, a self-styled "black liberation soldier and political prisoner," was arrested and charged in 1975 for attempting to rob a bank to fund "revolutionary projects" and engaging in a shootout with police, according to Denver Anarchist Black Cross and a 2008 video interview of Lutalo.

He was paroled in 1980 and arrested again in 1982 for allegedly assaulting and robbing a drug dealer, the Denver Anarchist Black Cross reports. He was released in August from prison.

Bonnie Kerness, of the American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch Program, which has monitored Lutalo's stay in prison, said Friday that Lutalo is mild-mannered and that she had spoken with him by phone several times while he was on the train.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

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