The morning coffee drinkers at the Griddle diner remember the guy with “strong ideas.”
To them, he was just some mid-30ish loudmouth working in the tire shop down the street on East Lancaster Avenue.
Then, one morning, he was on the TV news — charged in an Aug. 7, 1998, U.S. embassy bombing and accused of securing weapons for Osama bin Laden.
The enemies who attack America are not all “over there.”
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At the Griddle, they know we have enemies right here.
Wadih el-Hage, the former personal secretary to bin Laden, was “a radical, radical man,” said retired IRS agent Joe Vale, 71, remembering him from the days when el-Hage drank coffee with them in the old east Fort Worth diner.
Then, el-Hage was an Arlington terrorist organizer and a Fort Worth tire repairman.
Now, he faces a life sentence in federal prison.
“He told people he hated the United States because we were helping Israel,” Vale said.
“He told everybody he was an enemy of the United States. Who knows how many more like him are still here?”
Bin Laden and his followers are not the only suspects in the terrorist attacks Tuesday in New York and Washington.
The trial of el-Hage — convicted of terrorism in the bin Laden-backed bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya — is our most vivid local reminder that we are part of a larger world.
We live in a community with instant access to that world — and to all its threats.
“We ought to find out who did it, and then go out and get somebody,” muttered Griddle customer Jim Standerfer, 54, a retired plastics worker and Vietnam veteran talking between drags on a cigarette and swigs of diner coffee.
“They’ve taken too much money away from the federal intelligence agencies. I’m a lot more worried about what’s happening inside our borders. I’d pay more tax money to have better security around here.”
Some Griddle customers said el-Hage drank coffee there. Others said they never saw him, but heard about him from workers and customers at the tire shop.
“He was always saying that he hates the U.S.,” Standerfer said.
“Fine. I know a lot of people who go around saying they hate the U.S. — just don’t blow up innocent people over it.”
Vale, a Rio Grande Valley native and the brother of former San Antonio state Sen. Bob Vale, said he wishes the solution were as easy as finding some other nation to blame and “just go turn the whole place into a parking lot.”
“But it’s not that easy,” he said, waving his coffee mug.
“This isn’t some other country we’re up against. It’s just a bunch of thugs against America.”
The guys at the Griddle know what they’re talking about.
Some of them actually know a terrorist.