Once a terror suspect, Zapata now a free man - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Once a terror suspect, Zapata now a free man

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - After being held in federal custody for more than a week, Steve Vincent Zapata was ordered to be released from federal custody today.  Once a suspect in a federal investigation to see if he had ties to terrorism, he's now a free man...looking for a job.

Zapata says he returned to Guam after more than three decades to tour the island.  He says he doesn't understand why he was picked up and investigated for having ties to terrorism, saying he just wanted to be a tourist.  He walked out of the Hagatna Detention Facility, where he'd been held behind bars for more than a week as federal authorities investigated his recent travel history.

During a detention hearing this afternoon before District Court Magistrate Judge Joaquin Manibusan, the feds made it clear they had nothing to keep Zapata behind bars and provided no proof that he was a danger to the community or to national security.  He only faces a single charge of making a false statement to authorities about how many bags he brought to the island.

A federal probe was launched after Zapata was picked up by police in Tumon for loitering. But he says he was merely waiting for a bus to pick him up.

Zapata came to Guam after a brief stay in Japan and more than a month stay in Pakistan.  He recalled, "What brung [sic] me to Pakistan is Muldan Daro - famous for its historical sites. That's what brought me there in the first place. I was reading books about it and I wanted to go there before too much trouble escalates in that area. So that basically what brung [sic] me over here."

When his funds ran out, Zapata was able to buy a ticket to Guam, where he was once stationed in the late-70's when he was in the U.S. Air Force.  His arrest locally led to the discovery of a storage unit he had rented at I&E Storage Systems in Tamuning.  Two weeks ago the National Guard, Customs and the FBI executed a search warrant and bomb detection units searched the entire location. Authorities found a black duffel bag he stored there. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Black says inside the bag authorities found bike parts, sake, and Japanese tea - just as Zapata had stated.  "I can't carry every piece of luggage on my back," he said.  "Where would you put it at? I know nobody on the island. I don't understand where you're supposed to put your luggage at around here."

While federal authorities here sought assistance from counter terrorism officials in the Philippines to determine if Zapata was tied to terrorist organizations, the search came up empty.  Because the government could not show that he was a danger, he was released from jail.

The 50-year-old says he cooperated with authorities and briefed them on his travel methods and went into detail of where he went and what he did.  "What they think of me is not up to me. They're very serious allegations. I know that," he noted.

Zapata said he watched television news reports and was worried that he may be in jail even longer, but now he's a free man, looking for a job and a place to stay.  "We'll get him out and hopefully get him a place to stay," said public defender John Gorman, Zapata's legal counsel.  "And then get a job it night take a little while to get this resolved. We have more fighting to do definitely.

When asked if he felt his client was wrongfully arrested by police and held by federal authorities, Gorman responded, "I don't want to litigate the case in the media, but yeah, obviously we feel there are some problems with this case."

So what's next for Zapata?  He said simply, "Depends on faith...I don't know yet."

Zapata is not allowed to leave the island and is prohibited from possessing a gun or consuming alcohol or narcotics.  He must also make a weekly call into the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office.

It was also noted during today's court hearing that Zapata is still wanted in California, but the state will not expend funds to have him flown back to answer to a DUI charge in that state.  Judge Manibusan warned Zapata that if he were to set foot in California he would be arrested; but that won't happen anytime soon, as authorities have his passport.

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