Arrest on Colorado Amtrak train over alleged threat

January 29, 2010 2:05:44 PM PST
An Amtrak passenger who alarmed fellow passengers in Colorado by allegedly talking about terrorist threats on a cell phone was pulled from the train and faces a felony charge of endangering public transportation. Ojore Nuru Lutalo, 64, who was recently released from prison, was arrested Tuesday on an Amtrak passage from Los Angeles to Chicago. Passengers on the train alerted authorities after allegedly hearing the man from Elizabeth, N.J., mention al-Qaida and make threats in a cell phone conversation.

Lutalo, freed Thursday on $30,000 bond and now in Denver, denies mentioning al-Qaida or making any threats.

"I know better than to make bomb threats," he told The Associated Press. "I never made a threat against Amtrak. I looking to beat these charges because they have no foundation."

Lutalo's next court date on the state charge is in Otero County District Court on Feb. 5. FBI spokeswoman Kathy Wright said the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Colorado Springs has been notified but that no federal charges are expected.

Police said in an affidavit that passengers overheard Lutalo saying he hadn't killed anyone yet, and that he talked about going to jail.

Passengers say the man 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 mention al-Qaida, saying, "17th century tactics won't work, we have 21st century tactics."

The conductor said Lutalo had a tan blanket over his entire body so the conductor could not see what he was doing.

Lutalo was taken into custody at the La Junta train station in southeastern Colorado. Police said he was not armed or carrying explosives. He was carrying propaganda for an anarchist group called Afrikan Liberation Army.

Lutalo was released in August from a New Jersey prison after a 27-year term for aggravated assault, robbery and two counts of weapons possession. New Jersey authorities said Lutalo has also used the name Leroy Bunting.

Bonnie Kerness, a member of the American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch Program, said Friday that Lutalo was returning to New Jersey from a speaking engagement at a book fair in Los Angeles sponsored by a group that raises money to help prisoners. Kerness, who monitored Lutalo while he was in prison, described him as mild-mannered and polite and had spoken with him by phone several times while he was on the train.

"It seems like so much ado about nothing," she said from the group's offices in Newark, N.J.