By DANIEL SUDDEATH
Tim Beam and Keith Carpenter share passions that many Southern Indiana residents enjoy, such as basketball, family and friends. Their jobs, however, set them apart: It just so happens that the pair put two international terrorists behind bars.
Supervisory Special Agent Beam and Special Agent Carpenter of the Louisville FBI bureau were at the forefront of an investigation that led to the 2011 arrests of two al Qaeda-Iraq terrorists who were living in Bowling Green, Ky.
Following up on tips, the FBI began investigating Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi in 2009.
They built a case in part through a fake arms deal that Alwan and Hammadi agreed to help orchestrate. Investigators were able to record Alwan admitting he’d built bombs in Iraq and killed American soldiers.
The wheels kept turning and Alwan’s fingerprints were found on a bomb remote that was used during Improvised Exploding Device attacks against U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Alwan and Hammadi also demonstrated the will to continue to participate in terrorist activity by agreeing to participate in the arms deals, Beam said.
“There’s no better indicator of future behavior than past behavior,” he said.
The local terrorism-busting tandem even gained national notoriety, having appeared on “Good Morning America, “Nightline” and “ABC Nightly News.”
Some have questioned why the past behavior of Alwan and Hammadi wasn’t detected by the U.S. before they were allowed in the country.
The case has again come to the forefront after Hammadi appealed his life sentence last week in a federal court in Ohio.
Hammadi received the sentence for his terrorist past while Alwan was given 40 years behind bars after cooperating with investigators.
The fingerprints were considered almost an impossible link, and once they were discovered, the FBI brought Alwan and Hammadi to justice, Carpenter said.
When it comes to terrorism, the FBI feels the same way about anyone who attacks Americans, he added.
“We’re obligated to bring them to justice,” he said.
The system of protection — from monitoring terrorist activity to screening refugees entering the country — has improved considerably over the last decade, Carpenter said.
“I think we’re in a better position than we’ve ever been,” he said.
But was Bowling Green — a city of about 60,000 people located near the Tennessee border and about an hour from Ft. Campbell Military Base — not a strange location to find two terrorists with ties to violence in Iraq?
“I don’t think we were really shocked,” Beam said. “It wasn’t necessarily surprising that we had individuals who maybe had some ill-will toward America.”
The older the Sept. 11, 2001, attack becomes, the less people think about terrorism, Carpenter said. But he added that doesn’t mean there aren’t threats or that the FBI isn’t actively pursuing ways to keep the country safe.
“The general public doesn’t deal with it on a daily basis like we do,” Carpenter said.
Beam stressed that people shouldn’t judge all refugees entering the country based on the actions of Alwan and Hammadi.
“We have thousands of refugees who legitimately come here to take on the American dream,” he said.
When they aren’t working on cases, Beam and Carpenter enjoy spending time with their families or playing basketball.
The Southern Indiana natives have spent some years away from the area during their careers, but each jumped at the opportunity to return home.
Carpenter has been around the world on assignment sitting side by side with some of the most notable people on the planet.
“A lot of times I’d think — I’m a country boy from Southern Indiana,” Carpenter said.
Beam and Carpenter have had to make sacrifices along the way. In their line of work, they can’t just tell anyone what’s on their mind, or what happened to them at work on a particular day.
“People treat you differently when they find out you’re an FBI agent,” Carpenter said.
But the job also has great benefits including working with men and women who become like family, he continued.
But even when out of the office or off assignment, the training lingers.
“Anywhere I go, and I know [Beam] feels the same way, I’m always observing. You’re always on,” Carpenter said.