Homeland insecurity: Feds mob QA bar in search of suspect

Police and agents from the FBI and Homeland Security descended on the Mecca Café and Bar on Lower Queen Anne Hill Friday afternoon in search of a potential terrorist, according to numerous sources and the FBI.

The subject of the search is a longtime regular at the bar on Queen Anne Avenue North half a block south from Mercer Street, but the man still isn't sure why the war on terrorism took such a personal turn for him around 1 p.m. that day.

He knows it had something to do several cellphone conversations he made while sitting in a booth on the restaurant side, said the man, who prefers to remain anonymous.

"They said somebody overheard me saying subversive things on my cellphone," said the man, who added that he couldn't remember saying anything to prompt such a response.

General consensus at a bar named after a Muslim holy city is that the man probably said something about "getting bombed at the Mecca," and the man conceded he could have said that.

"It's entirely possible, because I was," he said of downing six or seven cocktails in an early start to a four-day, Memorial Day weekend. "Hell, I don't know what I said."

Whatever it was, the feds told waitress Courtney Reading that someone sitting in a nearby booth fingered the man. "An actual customer of mine called," she said.

Reading said no one would tell her what the man said on his cellphone, but they did want to know what she thought of him. "They asked me if I ever felt threatened by the man." She wasn't threatened, Reading said, adding that she's known the man for a long time.

Noting the agency responds to potential terrorist situations, FBI Special Agent Ray Lauer confirmed an overheard conversation was the source of the complaint, but he declined to say what the conversation involved. "There were certainly enough things said to warrant an investigation," he said.

However, whoever made the call to authorities may have been a stranger in the neighborhood because the search started out in the wrong bar. Mike Jones, a bartender at Peso's a block north on Queen Anne Avenue, said a uniformed cop and two federal agents in Hawaiian shirts walked in and demanded to know the name of the bar.

All three were holding onto holstered guns, and immediately wanted to know where the Mecca was when they figured out their mistake, said Jones, who also bartends at the Mecca.

Then the group hit the Mecca, where the subject of the search was a little incredulous after one agent flashed an FBI badge and the other flashed a Homeland Security badge, he said. "I said, 'you've got to be (kidding) me!' "

The man added that the agent asked him to step outside. "They said they wanted to ask me some questions," said the man, who added he refused. The man said he wasn't sure whether the agents were genuine, but he had a suggestion.

"Show me some cops, and we'll talk," he remembers saying. "Next thing I know, there's cops everywhere and they're quizzing me about my cellphone conversations," he said of the two agents.

Estimates on the number involved vary, but according to Mecca bartender Tim Craft, five FBI agents parked three cars on the street outside, along with one cop car with flashing lights, reducing that stretch of Queen Anne Avenue to one lane of traffic for a time.

The man spent around half an hour outside, said Craft, who added that he joked with some customers about a "blue light special" when they asked if the Mecca was open.

The man also said the original pair of agents did the good-cop-bad-cop routine. "The FBI guy was actually pretty cool the whole time," the man said.

The man said he was questioned about - among other things - a cellphone conversation in which he used the "N" word while he was talking to his best friend, a black man he had planned to go camping with over the Memorial Day Weekend.

But that shouldn't have matter, anyway, according to the man. "Last time I checked, I thought I could say anything I wanted on my cellphone," he railed.

"It was kind of funny," the man reflected a few days later. "At the end of the conversation, everybody was kind of tense, and I said, "Oh my God, it's my shirt.' "

The man went on to say he thinks a militant vegetarian going to the "hippie Folklife Festival" turned him into the feds. That's because he was wearing a PETA T-shirt, but the not the one for the group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The PETA on his shirt stood for "People Eating Tasty Animals," the man grinned. He added that the back of the shirt read something about how there's room on earth for all of God's creatures - "right next to my mashed potatoes."

Ben Wade, who was cooking at the Mecca that day, was philosophical. "(The man) is a great guy; he was just talking on his phone," Wade said.

The man, for his part, came back in and had another drink, laughing about the encounter afterward, the cook said. "It was no big deal."[[In-content Ad]]