A Nevada lawmaker who works as a firefighter argued Friday for a bill to prevent hoax terrorism, citing an increase in fake threats such as a 2005 threat by a man in Las Vegas to blow up a bus with what turned out to be an empty grenade.
Assemblyman John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said laws such as his proposed AB137 are necessary in a post-9/11 world.
"Unfortunately a false threat can cause just as much intimidation, panic and interference as a real threat. ... Think of the damage you could do with this kind of (hoax) substance in McCarran airport or a judicial building," Oceguera told the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
Oceguera is a battalion chief for the North Las Vegas Fire Department. He responded to the 2005 incident on Interstate 15 where Eman Zaeri, a 24-year-old Iranian man, told a co-worker he was related to Osama Bin Laden and was going to blow up the bus that was taking them to work.
Attorneys for Zaeri said he was immature and was making an inappropriate joke, while prosecutors said he was a threat to society and wondered whether he was performing a test for a terrorist group.
Zaeri pleaded guilty in July 2006 and was sentenced to two years' probation for making the threat.
AB137 would increase penalties for certain acts of terrorism from one to six to two to 20 years. It also makes it a crime to deliver or disperse a hoax substance that appears to be a weapon of mass destruction, a toxin or a lethal chemical, biological or nuclear agent.
Robert Roshak, a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officer, argued in favor of the bill. He said there are 10 to 15 hoaxes a year in the Las Vegas area, adding that the incidents take up valuable resources.
"It requires an entire callout of a team that has to come out, suit up, isolate the area, get the substance, analyze, figure out what it is, send it off to be tested ... ."
Raymond Flynn, also with Las Vegas Metro, said the law would add a tool to battle terrorism.
"We know through intelligence as well as training that terrorist groups do hoaxes to test public safety response and to figure out how to improve their tactics," Flynn said.
No one spoke in opposition of the measure.