Special report: Tampa explosion & the strange case of Farid Karakra

18 February 2008 It was around midnight on Tuesday, February 5, 2008 when a series of at least three explosions ripped through Jacob’s Lube & Citgo gas station, convenience store and deli at the corner of Busch and North Boulevards in Tampa, killing 22 year-old Palestinian immigrant Farid I.A. KARAKRA. The station was closed for business at that hour, raising questions about what KARAKRA was doing at his brother-in-law’s automotive repair shop in the middle of the night.

According to law enforcement sources and published reports, KARAKRA, a/k/a Farid YUSIF, went to the station after visiting with some friends at the Al-Aqsa Coffee House, a Middle Eastern coffee shop and popular hangout for Muslims, especially Muslim students who attend the University of South Florida. Investigation indicates that KARKRA left the coffee shop around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, traveling from 10819 56th Street to Citgo at 901 W. Busch Boulevard in Tampa. Within the hour, he would be dead from the burns he suffered in the explosions and subsequent fire.

karakracitgoAccording to residents living near the gas station, the explosions were so large that the concussions shook houses in the area. Valiant attempts to rescue the screaming KARAKRA were made by Alonzo Browne, an employee of a donut shop located across from the station, and by Tampa Police Tampa Officers Ed Croissant and Cpl. Jim Thompson who arrived shortly after the explosions. The heat from the fire following the explosions was so intense, KARAKRA could not be saved. He was ultimately removed from inside the gas station by Tampa Fire personnel, but KARAKRA had already expired.

FBI enters investigation

The circumstances surrounding the deadly explosion on February 5th have been the subject of much initial speculation, fueled by the involvement of the FBI in an event that is normally handled by local fire investigators and law enforcement. The reason for the involvement of the FBI and other federal agencies in this matter, however, is beginning to emerge.

Doug Hagmann, a 23-year veteran investigator and director of the Northeast Intelligence Network has been in contact with a law enforcement source close to this investigation since the incident. This source, speaking on the strict condition of anonymity, stated that “cause and origin investigators have all but ruled out that the explosions were caused by gasoline or other flammable sources that would routinely be found in a normal service station setting.”

During a telephone interview this weekend, this source stated that “they [investigators] found nothing related to the operation of the service station that could reasonably be the cause for the explosions, especially after an assessment of damage to the interior of the building caused by the explosions. The explosions were very powerful and based on the internal reports I’ve read and the investigators I’ve talked to, were inconsistent with a normal gas vapor cause. The blast damage to the interior of the building’s structure was significant,” stated this source. The description of the damage to the building mirrored some witnesses who said that “the roof blew off the place.”

Publicly, law enforcement officials have yet to comment on the cause of the explosions. Rumors that forensic examiners investigating the blast site found traces of a certain compounds “not indigenous to” or normally found at automotive service stations have not been publicly confirmed. Nonetheless, this law enforcement source confided to this investigator that trace evidence collected from the scene has been analyzed “by the feds.” While the results of those tests have not been released, this source is reporting that trace evidence tested positive for the presence of an explosive material, but declined to identify the material to avoid potentially compromising the ongoing investigation.

Who was Farid KARAKRA?

karakraFarid I.A KARAKRA, who resided on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in Tampa at the time of his death, entered the U.S. from the West Bank about four years ago on a student visa to attend the University of Miami. He moved in with his sister and brother-in-law and took a job as a mechanic at his brother-in-law’s shop at the Citgo on Busch Boulevard. He quickly made friends through a local mosque and Islamic center, and at the Al-Aqsa Coffee Shop.

Allegedly, KARAKRA was to be married in June to a young girl currently residing in New York. Hi fiancé did not attend the funeral, which was held at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay, 7326 E. Slight Avenue, Tampa, Florida.

Curiosity surrounds KARAKRA and his activities since his arrival in the U.S., including but not limited to charges filed against him for the possession of fraudulent identification. He was arrested in Florida last year for having a false ID, although the charges were reduced from a felony to summary status when the matter was adjudicated. And then there is the matter of a possible connection between KARAKRA and the high-profile investigation of two USF students arrested last year for possession of explosives.

Following the news of the explosion, rumors within law enforcement suggested a possible connection between KARAKRA and the two University of South Florida students who were arrested last August in Goose Creek, South Carolina. Yousef MEGAHED, 21, and Ahmed MOHAMED, 24 were arrested and charged with possessing explosives in their vehicle. Their arrests are surrounded by controversy clouded by contradicting public statements made federal law enforcement agencies as well as those by officials from the Council on American Islamic Relations. Both men are currently awaiting trial.

According to the information offered by the law enforcement source interviewed this weekend, there appears to be substantiation of rumors that there was “some connection” between the deceased KARAKRA and the two USF students. The possible connection reportedly stems from “a social network” at the Al-Aqsa Coffee House, where many patrons celebrated the acquittal of USF professor Sami al Arian in December 2005.

“There has been an extensive ‘social network’ of young Muslim men in the Tampa area for a long time. Many people don’t understand that this ‘network’ gained a sense of being impervious to investigation that began with the acquittal of al-Arian,” stated this source, noting that this perception has caused investigators some difficulty recently. “Al Arian’s acquittal was seen as one ‘turning point’ that took the wind out of the government’s investigations into the financing of terrorism and related cases.”

What caused the massive explosions that ripped though an otherwise quiet night in Tampa almost three weeks ago? As suggested by the law enforcement source speaking to this investigator, don’t expect much information to be made public by federal authorities working on this case. As with most such cases, news about this case will eventually be absorbed into the fabric of an impotent media combined with public malaise about potential terrorism activities inside the U.S.