TULSA, OKLA. The police chief here backed away Thursday from comments about terrorists living in Tulsa and Wichita, saying he has no evidence supporting the existence of al-Qaida "cells" in either city.
Tulsa police chief Dave Been caused a stir Wednesday with comments to the local Rotary Club that terrorists with ties to al-Qaida are in Tulsa and Wichita. Citing security concerns, he did not elaborate.
Been explained Thursday that he meant that financial and philosophical supporters of terror are so prevalent nationally that they are probably in heartland cities like Tulsa and Wichita, which he said he included as a "generic example" of another heartland city.
In a phone interview, Been said he was trying to stress that Tulsa and Wichita must remain vigilant against terror even though the cities are not population centers on either coast.
"I mentioned the word "cell" for Godsakes," Been said Thursday. "I think that keyed it. I have absolutely not seen any information or seen any evidence of that in Tulsa, Oklahoma."
"It's something that's been kind of hammered into us at the national level, using that terminology for those people who are gathering together to do harm," he said. "I think that was at the top of my mind as I spoke."
He called Wichita police chief Norman Williams Thursday to apologize.
"He was very gracious, and said, "I appreciate the call and don't you worry about it a bit," Been said of Williams.
Wichita police Lt. Joe Dessenberger, who coordinates emergency planning and security for the city, said Been did not need to apologize and said the city's threat level remained at its routine "yellow."
"We don't have any specific concerns about specific people within the community," Dessenberger said. "If there was something here to elevate the threat level to orange or red, we would be there."
Been's comments Wednesday puzzled other law enforcement officials, including those with the FBI and the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security. Officials with those agencies said Wednesday they had no indication of cells linked to Osama bin Laden's organization in the two cities.
Gary Johnson, spokesman for the FBI in Oklahoma City, said Thursday the bureau's relationship with Been and the Tulsa police department remains very strong as they cooperate on an anti-terrorism task force.
"I'll stick by our previous statements that there are no threats that would indicate any terrorist attack is imminent in Oklahoma," Johnson said. "We won't comment on any counterterror investigations we routinely conduct."
Been's remarks also angered the Islamic Society of Wichita.