NBC’s Dateline: Time Bomb; Investigation into storage locker full of

NBC News Transcripts
SHOW: Dateline NBC 7:00 AM EST NBC
June 12, 2005 Sunday

Time Bomb; Investigation into storage locker full of explosives in
Bedford, Ohio



Announcer: And now with Time Bomb, here again is Stone Phillips.

STONE PHILLIPS: When you think of likely terrorist targets in the
United States, you think of places where it’s happened before: New
York, Washington, or other big cities like Chicago or Los Angeles.
But a small town in Ohio? That’s where, long before 9/11, authorities
found a huge cache of explosives and weapons. The accidental
discovery in a self-storage facility left federal agents scratching
their heads. Whose weapons were they, and how exactly were they going
to be used? It’s a mystery that took years of tireless investigation
to solve. Here’s John Hockenberry.

JOHN HOCKENBERRY reporting: (Voiceover) Bedford, Ohio, is on the road
to nowhere, a little town where the freight train stops only once a
day. Few would call this place a destination. Not so long ago you
would have gotten laughs if you suggested this bedroom community had
any connection to a global terrorist network. All the people who live
in Bedford, Ohio, could have fit into the World Trade Center with
room to spare. But long before the attack on the twin towers,
investigators believe this town had its own very real brush with
terrorism. It also happened on a September morning, back in 1996.

(Aerial view of Bedford, Ohio; Bedford sign; train; scenes around
Bedford; aerial view of Bedford; scenes around Bedford)

Mr. PETE ELLIOT: September the 13th is Friday the 13th, and I was
waiting for the black cat to jump out from around the corner.

HOCKENBERRY: You’re superstitious?

Mr. ELLIOT: Not very, but a little.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Pete Elliot is a special agent for the
Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the ATF. Based in
nearby Cleveland, he works mostly violent crime cases involving
firearms and explosives. But he was about to embark on a case like
none he had ever seen.

(ATF jacket; Pete Elliot at computer; Elliot handling gun)

HOCKENBERRY: What began as a routine case would take four years to
solve. In the end it would bring renewed attention to a shadowy world
where terrorists out for revenge used bombs and assassinations for a
cause they believed was just. And it would lead to suspicions that a
prominent member of a Northern Ohio community–a man with influence
and friendships at the highest levels of the US government–was
somehow connected.

(Voiceover) A man who thought his secrets were safely locked away,
even from a dogged federal agent by the name of Pete Elliot.

(Photo of Mourad Topalian; photo of Elliot)

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) It started with a seemingly ordinary phone
call just after 10 in the morning from the Bedford Police. At the
time, Pete Elliot didn’t think it would be a big deal.

(Aerial view of Bedford; clock)

Mr. ELLIOT: Typically, or weekly, as ATF agents we deal with firearms
and explosives.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Answering phone) Bedford Police.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The Bedford Police told Elliot they had just
gotten an urgent call from a local business. For veteran detective
Tim Oleksiak it was anything but routine.

(Dispatcher; Tim Oleksiak at driving range)

HOCKENBERRY: I suppose you get a lot of calls as a local cop, and
some of them are bigger deals than what it sounds like on the call,
and some are smaller deals than what it sounds like on the call.

Mr. TIM OLEKSIAK: That’s right.

HOCKENBERRY: Where does this one fit?

Mr. OLEKSIAK: This was in the top 10.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The police had been alerted by the manager
of a self-service storage facility on the edge of town. Someone who
had rented one of the units had stopped making payments. After
waiting six months, the manager got annoyed, cut the lock off and
opened the door. Then she called police.

(Storage facility; lock; open storage unit door)

Mr. OLEKSIAK: It was a real sense of urgency, a real sense of
urgency. We didn’t know exactly what we had until we got there. I was
one of the first officers on the scene.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Pete Elliot arrived just behind Oleksiak.
Inside the locker, they found boxes containing an estimated 100
pounds of explosives and blasting caps, and more than a dozen
weapons, including an Uzi submachine gun, an unusual shotgun with a
double trigger, and a rifle with an odd design on it. They also found
a bank deposit envelope and an old trench coat. Those items would get
a lot of interest later. But it was the dynamite that got everyone’s
attention that morning.

(Agents and police at storage unit; explosives; photos of items in
storage facility; explosives; agents and police at storage unit)

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) What state were they in?

(Explosives at storage unit)

Mr. ELLIOT: A bad state, deteriorating, leaking, crystallizing. On
the boxes we could tell that they were manufactured in 1976, so we
knew we had old dynamite.

HOCKENBERRY: So essentially what you’re telling me is that storage
unit, all by itself, was a bomb.

Mr. ELLIOT: Absolutely.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) A bomb whose potential destructive power
became apparent immediately. The storage locker was just over the
fence from a gas station, and right next to an interstate. Across the
street was a daycare center, and just down the block was a school.

(Explosive materials; aerial view of storage facility; interstate
with storage units in background; playground with storage units in
back ground; school)

HOCKENBERRY: Is it illegal to have explosives in a storage unit?

Mr. ELLIOT: Yes, definitely. And in this case, 20-year-old explosives
next to a gas station and a daycare center, a school–definitely

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Ironically, on the boxes of blasting caps
was a less-than-subtle reminder that explosives and children don’t
mix. Bob Reid was the Bedford police chief in charge of the scene
that morning.

(Text on explosives box; crime scene)

HOCKENBERRY: How many people do you think were threatened on that

Mr. BOB REID: Well, you have a student population of about 300 at the
elementary school.

(Voiceover) And at the daycare I believe there were 75 to 100 kids
there. The interstate highway, which is close, they have thousands a
day that go by there.

(School sign; child care sign; highway by storage facility)

Mr. REID: So that particular day it would have to be at least 750
people that had the possibility of an explosion and the tragedy.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Everyone’s nerves were on edge, no one who
responded to the call had seen anything like it. Tim Oleksiak became
even more concerned after he talked to the bomb squad technician on
the scene.

(Police at storage unit; explosives at storage unit)

Mr. OLEKSIAK: I’ve never had that situation before where a bomb tech
would actually say, `I only want myself and one other bomb person
here. I want everybody else out of here.’ It’s never happened before.
So we knew it was a very volatile situation at that point.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Dynamite gets more unstable over time. ATF
Experts would later say that the explosives were so volatile, a bug
crawling across this dynamite might have been enough to set it all

(Explosives at storage unit)

Unidentified Man #1: (From videotape) It leaked all over. They’ve

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The ATF and a local bomb squad knew they had
to get rid of the dynamite and fast. The highway was closed. The
children evacuated. Then the explosives were removed from their boxes
and taken out of town. Bob Reid was there when they were detonated.

(Man in protective suit at storage site; man directing traffic; child
care center; emergency vehicle)

Mr. REID: It was huge. This mushroom cloud had to go 75, 100 feet in
the air. And, I mean, it just mushroomed and the ground shook.

HOCKENBERRY: You felt this one in your bones.

Mr. REID: Oh, absolutely.

HOCKENBERRY: It was the sound of dodging a bullet?

Mr. REID: Yeah.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Bedford, Ohio, was out of danger, but
somehow its home-spun tranquility had attracted someone with 100
pounds of explosives and a small arsenal. Who and what had been
hiding out in Bedford?

(Bedford sign; weapons; box of explosives)

Mr. OLEKSIAK: We were totally clueless the first day, literally. We
didn’t know what we had to go on.

Mr. ELLIOT: My initial thoughts that day is it had to be somebody
back in the early 1980s, more than likely it was mob-related.
Somebody that is in jail now, going to get out and going to save this
stuff for a rainy day. Why else would you keep it around for that
many years?

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The lease records for the locker didn’t seem
to be of much help. All of the names on the lease were fake. At one
point the renter had listed an address, but it was for this
convenience store in a nearby suburb. Elliot couldn’t find a
connection. So he zeroed in on the unusual way the rent had always
been paid.

(Empty storage unit; door of storage unit being closed; convenience
store; storage facility)

Mr. ELLIOT: Always in cash, never in check, or never leaving a trail


Mr. ELLIOT: So they…

HOCKENBERRY: …there was an actual person with that money coming to
that storage unit…

Mr. ELLIOT: Absolutely.

HOCKENBERRY: …every month, or periodically to make those payments.

Mr. ELLIOT: Right, right.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Regular cash payments made in person meant
there might be a witness. Elliot discovered that indeed a manager at
the storage facility was able to give ATF agents a description of the
woman who had come in monthly to pay the rent in cash. Elliot thought
he had his first break in the case.

(Elliot at computer; storage facility)

Mr. ELLIOT: The manager said that this female would be in her 50s
now, was small, about 5’2″, petite, dark-complected, dark hair, dark
eyes. So we had a sketch, we had a composite of a female that
paying–making payments between 1983 and 1989.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) You looked at the sketch.

(Composite sketch)

Mr. OLEKSIAK: Right.

HOCKENBERRY: Did you think that it had any–and value in terms of
solving this crime?

Mr. OLEKSIAK: At the beginning, no.


Mr. OLEKSIAK: It looked like a 35, 40-year-old female, it was a
pretty typical composite.

HOCKENBERRY: About 1 in a billion.

Mr. OLEKSIAK: Exactly.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) So it wasn’t surprising that when the ATF
released the composite to the local media, no one called saying they
recognized her. It looked like this lead was another dead end. But
Pete Elliot would not give up.

(Newspaper article)

Mr. ELLIOT: I’ve always been under the belief, and I learned a long
time ago that everything in life can be traced. And even when you
think nobody’s looking at you, somebody’s watching you, and that you
always leave behind clues, no matter what.


Mr. ELLIOT: Always.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Being a cop is in Pete Elliot’s bones. His
great-grandfather was a police chief. His father was a deputy
sheriff, and later a US Marshal. Even after Pete, himself, joined the
US Marshal service, he had his sights set on joining the ATF.

(Photos of men; photo of Pete Elliot and father)

Mr. ELLIOT: It was my first choice, you know? And I take pride in
being an ATF agent. I take pride in working violent crime. I think we
have one of the toughest jobs in the country in law enforcement.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) He is a dedicated and deeply religious man
who relies on his faith when the going gets tough.

(Elliot praying)

Mr. ELLIOT: (Voiceover) You know, I believe everything happens for a
reason and a purpose.

(Elliot praying)

Mr. ELLIOT: And I believe there was a reason that I was supposed to
be there that day.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) And discovering that reason became Pete
Elliot’s mission as a detective. Faith, some good police work and
maybe some lucky breaks, Elliot believed, would crack the case. So
when the police drawing failed to turn up any suspects, Elliot tried
to run a trace on the 13 weapons which had been in the locker with
the dynamite. The trouble was most were so old they were
untraceable–all except for the Winchester-type rifle with that
unique carving on the stock.

(Elliot working at desk; composite sketch; weapons; rifle; carving)

Mr. ELLIOT: And that traced back to a female that was no longer
residing in the Cleveland area.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The woman who bought the rifle was now
living in rural West Virginia. So with his composite in hand, Elliot
set off to find her. Driving through the hills and valleys of
Appalachia, he spent hours looking for the right house, daring to
think he was about to arrest the woman who had rented the locker.

(Mountains; Elliot driving; cars on road; empty road)

Mr. ELLIOT: And I’m thinking, `Wow, this is a quick case, it’s over.
We’ve got her.’

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) But the woman who answered the door, not
only didn’t match the composite, she also didn’t know anything about
a storage locker or about the dynamite inside.

(Houses; storage facility)

HOCKENBERRY: So I’m figuring at that point you’re going, `Well, this
might have been a lot of wasted gas spent going to West Virginia.’

Mr. ELLIOT: Right.


Mr. ELLIOT: Until we sat down and talked with her.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The woman did know something about the rifle
with the unusual carving on the stock. She said her son had sold the
gun to her old boss, a man whom she knew by the nickname “Moose.”
Moose owned a convenience store near Cleveland, the one with the same
address that had been listed on the storage locker rental agreement.

(Carving; rifle; convenience store)

HOCKENBERRY: All of a sudden out here in the middle West Virginia,
there is the address again.

Mr. ELLIOT: Right.

HOCKENBERRY: Now, I’m betting, the hairs on the back of your neck are
starting to stand up.

Mr. ELLIOT: Absolutely.


Mr. ELLIOT: Yeah. Knew I was on to something then.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) As soon as he got back to Cleveland, Elliot
ran a check on the store’s owner, whose last name was Topalian. And a
search of Ohio driver’s license records turned up a woman named Lucy
Topalian, whose description sounded very familiar.

(Elliot at computer; composite sketch)

Mr. ELLIOT: (Voiceover) Five-foot-two, slender build, dark hair, dark
eyes. Age: in her 50s now.

(Composite sketch)

Mr. ELLIOT: All of that matched up to Lucy Topalian.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) To be sure he was on the right track, he
compared the handwriting on the storage locker lease with the
signature on Lucy Topalian’s apartment lease, and experts said it was
a match, the same person had signed both documents.


HOCKENBERRY: So within a month and two days after you open the
storage unit, you know who the woman is.

Mr. ELLIOT: Absolutely.

HOCKENBERRY: Now how are you feeling in your gut?

Mr. ELLIOT: We knew. We knew we had her then. But why? Why would a
female have 200 pounds of explosives, 13 firearms, a trench coat, all
of this stuff? Why? So we had to find out.

Announcer: A crucial clue, a tense moment.

Mr. OLEKSIAK: (Voiceover) We knock on the door, and it was pretty
astonishing that after all that time she still looked very similar to
that composite.

(Composite sketch; photo of Lucy Topalian)

Announcer: When Time Bomb continues.


Announcer: We now continue with Time Bomb.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) By October 1996, just a month after a deadly
mystery nearly exploded in the town of Bedford, Ohio, Pete Elliot
thought he’d solved it. He had developed important clues about one of
the rifles that had been confiscated. And armed with a composite, he
and Detective Tim Oleksiak went to the suburban Cleveland department
of Lucy Topalian, the woman they believed had rented the storage
locker. It was a tense moment.

(Explosives in storage unit; rifle; composite sketch; apartment

Mr. OLEKSIAK: We knocked on the door, a female answers.

(Voiceover) And it was pretty astonishing that after all of that time
she still looked very similar to that composite. And that was a huge

(Composite sketch; photo of Lucy)

Mr. OLEKSIAK: And you want to–you want to jump out of your skin at
that time, but you can’t.

HOCKENBERRY: Once again, just like when you went to the door in West
Virginia, you were praying as an investigator that we are going to
see a short, kind of salt and pepper haired, in her 50s…

Mr. ELLIOT: Right.

HOCKENBERRY: …Mediterranean-looking lady, right?

Mr. ELLIOT: Right.

HOCKENBERRY: Did we find her?

Mr. ELLIOT: We found her.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) More surprising than what she looked like is
what she had to say. Lucy was once married to Mourad Topalian, the
owner of the convenience store, whose nickname she said was Moose.
Her former husband had asked her to secretly rent the locker. And she
insisted she never knew what was inside. She had used fake names to
cover herself, but Pete Elliot was still skeptical. Lucy lied when
she rented the locker, how could he be sure she wasn’t lying now?

(Photo of Lucy; photo of Mourad Topalian; storage unit; photo of

Mr. ELLIOT: I wanted to corroborate what Lucy Topalian was saying,
and we had her place a phone call to her ex-husband, who was now
residing in Miami.

Unidentified Woman #2: (From audiotape of phone conversation) Hello.

Ms. LUCY TOPALIAN: (From audiotape of phone conversation) Is Mourad

Woman #2: (From audiotape of phone conversation) Yeah, hold on. I’ll
get him for you.

Ms. TOPALIAN: (From audiotape of phone conversation) OK, thank you.

HOCKENBERRY: How did you convince her to do something like that?

Mr. ELLIOT: She was scared to death at that time. Agreed to
cooperate. Especially when we told her that the storage unit where it
was, across from a daycare center, she couldn’t believe it.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The two investigators listened in on the
conversation as Lucy talked to an abruptly uneasy Mourad.

(Apartment building)

Ms. TOPALIAN: (From audiotape of phone conversation) Yeah, listen,
the police were here earlier today. Like, they were asking me
questions about that storage locker in Bedford. Why didn’t you tell
me what stuff was in there?

Mr. MOURAD TOPALIAN: (From audiotape of phone conversation) Oh, Lucy.

Ms. TOPALIAN: (From audiotape of phone conversation) What? I’m scared
to death.

Mr. TOPALIAN: (From audiotape of phone conversation) Oh, man.

Ms. TOPALIAN: (From audiotape of phone conversation) There was enough
explosives in that room to blow up the whole fricken block. Jesus,
Mourad. I mean, this is insane. You had five kids…

Mr. TOPALIAN: (From audiotape of phone conversation) Lucy, please,
please, please, please I’ll fla–fly back up there and I’ll talk to
you. But not over the phone, please. For your sake, for my sake and
for the kids’ sake.

Mr. ELLIOT: His willingness to take a flight back up to Cleveland as
soon as he could to talk to her in person, to me that sends all the
keys in the world that something’s wrong here.

Mr. OLEKSIAK: We were both thinking the same thing. He knows what’s
going on and there is a lot more to this story, and we’re going to
find out what it is.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Topalian flew to Cleveland the very next
day. And realizing that she herself might be facing charges, Lucy
agreed to wear a wire to a breakfast meeting with her former husband.

(Airplane in sky; Lucy and Mourad talking)

Ms. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) Because I’m the one
that’s going to get screwed.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The two investigators hoped to hear Topalian
tell all as they listened from the parking lot of this restaurant
outside Cleveland.

(Lucy and Mourad talking; Bob Evans restaurant)

Mr. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) I didn’t know what was
in there.

Ms. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) Oh, you didn’t know what
was in…

Mr. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) I didn’t know what was
in there.

Ms. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) Who put it in there? You
have to know that.

Mr. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) Yeah, yeah. Somebody
went and asked me to rent that. Some of the guys from overseas. And
they said, `Just forget about it.’

Ms. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) You didn’t know there
were guns–guns and ammunition?

Mr. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) I didn’t know any of

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Everything he said was suspicious, but more
than that, it was cautious. Pete Elliot could hear that Topalian was
saying nothing incriminating. There was no federal case to be made

(Lucy and Mourad meeting at restaurant)

Mr. ELLIOT: We didn’t have any concrete evidence that he was the one
responsible for the inside contents of that storage unit. So we had a
big hurdle to go over.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) As the conversation inside the restaurant
went on, the two investigators heard tantalizing hints that this
Mourad Topalian had a mysterious sideline and previous brushes with
the feds.

(Lucy and Mourad meeting at restaurant)

Ms. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) Remember those two FBI
guys that came many, many years?

Mr. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) Oh, listen. I had FBI
guys so many different times that come in and talk to me.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Elliot was flabbergasted. Why would the FBI
have been so interested in this convenience store owner? And as he
talked, Topalian himself seemed to be acting like he was some kind of

(Bob Evans restaurant; Lucy and Mourad meeting in restaurant)

Mr. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) They’re going to go
after you. They’re using you to get me.

Ms. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) Why would they want to
get to you?

Mr. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) Because I’m the head of
the Armenian National Committee.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The Armenian National Committee, the two
listening investigators drew a blank.

(Mourad and Lucy meeting in restaurant)

Mr. OLEKSIAK: I had no idea where Armenia was, to be honest. I didn’t
know anything about Armenia at that point.

HOCKENBERRY: You know where it is now.

Mr. OLEKSIAK: Oh, yeah.

HOCKENBERRY: The investigators were now entering uncharted waters.
The door to that storage locker full of explosives had suddenly
opened onto a world of twisted global politics. The two investigators
would soon get a crash course in geography and history to learn of a
century-old hatred with roots half a world away.

(Voiceover) Armenia is a small country, once part of the Soviet
Union, which sits between the Caspian and Black Seas. But the
Armenian people have historically laid claim to a much larger area,
including part of present-day Turkey.

The dispute between the Armenians and Turks erupted into one of the
bloodiest ethnic conflicts of the 20th century. The Armenians accused
the Turks of murdering up to 1 1/2 million Armenians between 1915 and
1923. It was an ethnic cleansing operation that many historians
believe was the worst case of genocide before the Holocaust. The
Turks dispute the number of people killed, and they reject
accusations of genocide. The killings and the history remain largely
unknown to a global audience, but it is the defining historical event
for one million Americans of Armenian descent. People like Mourad
Topalian, who’s family lived in Armenia at the time of the killings.
His grandparents were tortured and hanged by the Turks.

(Map; photos of soldiers; drawing; news article; photos of killings;
news article; photos of dead people; people marching; Mourad
addressing group)

Mr. TOPALIAN: (Giving speech) I miss my grandparents. I miss my
uncles. I miss my aunts.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The investigators learned that Topalian had
traveled the country, repeating the story about his ancestors,
raising millions of dollars to promote awareness of Armenia and its
people’s plight. He also took his case to Washington, lobbying
Congress and top officials throughout the government. He was very
successful, not only in gaining their sympathy and understanding, he
had a hand in helping make Armenia one of the largest per-capita
recipients of US foreign aid.

(Mourad at podium; old photos; aerial view of Washington, DC; photos
of of Mourad)

Mr. ELLIOT: We knew we were dealing with somebody that just wasn’t
your average guy off the streets.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The man who Pete Elliot first thought was
just a convenience store owner named Moose was turning out to be a
man with friends in some very high places.

(Mourad and Lucy meeting at restaurant)

Mr. ELLIOT: He had a number of connections to a lot of powerful

HOCKENBERRY: This is a guy who visited the White House more than

Mr. ELLIOT: Right.

HOCKENBERRY: A lot more than once.

Mr. ELLIOT: Right.

Announcer: When Time Bomb continues.


Announcer: We continue with Time Bomb.

PHILLIPS: Federal Agent Pete Elliot has spent months searching for
the person who left 100 pounds of volatile explosives in a small town
storage locker. He’s traced the lethal stash to a man who once owned
a local convenience store. But digging deeper, Agent Elliot has
learned the man whose nickname was Moose has some extraordinary
connections to an underground terror network and to the nation’s
highest corridors of power. Here again, John Hockenberry.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) As Pete Elliot listened to that breakfast
meeting between Mourad Topalian and his former wife, Lucy, it became
clear that Topalian was a man with powerful connections. According to
ATF transcripts of the conversation, Mourad told Lucy he was supposed
to be somewhere far more important than the Bob Evans restaurant in

(Excerpt of Mourad and Lucy’s meeting; Bob Evans restaurant; White

Mr. ELLIOT: (Voiceover) He say he was supposed to be at the White
House that day.

(White House)

Mr. ELLIOT: We started to find out who Mourad Topalian was that day.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) For instance, that Topalian was no stranger
to Bill Clinton’s White House. He had visited the White House complex
nearly two dozen times between 1993 and 1996, according to government
records. He attended at least two gatherings with Mr. Clinton
himself. At one meeting he sat just one chair away from the

(White House; photo of presidential meeting)

HOCKENBERRY: Did you ever figure he was too big of a fish, that he’d
get away, that he’d somehow undermine your efforts? This is a guy who
visited the White House, more than once.

Mr. ELLIOT: Right.

HOCKENBERRY: A lot more than once.

Mr. ELLIOT: Right. I was concerned. I was definitely concerned. I was
told by witnesses during this case that they–they were told by him
that I was going to be transferred during this case, that there was
no case against him, that this case was a farce and was not going to
be going anywhere.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Topalian’s resume looked squeaky clean,
above reproach. He was a lecturer at the State Department, someone
who had testified before Congress, an upstanding vice president of a
community college. But Pete Elliot was convinced there was another
side to Mourad Topalian.

(Mourad leaving building with men)

HOCKENBERRY: I’m seeing somebody saying to himself, `You’re coming
down, buddy. I don’t care how long it takes.’

Mr. ELLIOT: If he’s guilty, he’s coming down. Correct.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Mourad Topalian, a man with powerful allies,
vs. Pete Elliot, an unheralded middle man at the beleaguered ATF. But
to Elliot, this was an opportunity. He would prove his own
investigative skills and help repair the reputation of the ATF,
stinging from high-profile debacles at Ruby Ridge and Waco.

(Mourad; Elliot at shooting range; burning of Waco buildings)

HOCKENBERRY: You made a vow that this case was not going to turn out
like some others.

Mr. ELLIOT: Right. Last thing I wanted was to, you know, not prove
this case, and have the media and have everybody else looking at this
thing and saying, `Well, the ATF should have never been involved.’ I
haven’t forgotten anything after Waco happened and how low our morale

HOCKENBERRY: But at this moment in the fall of ’96, you’re–you’re
carrying the flag for the whole agency, for–for a minute or two.

Mr. ELLIOT: I felt that way.

HOCKENBERRY: It’s amazing that all of these objects here tell a

Mr. ELLIOT: Everything left behind is something, some type of clue.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) But would those clues provide the answer to
two key questions? Why would a prominent person like Mourad Topalian
have a locker full of explosives and guns, and what connection might
the locker have with Armenia? Remember what Topalian had told his
former wife on that hidden camera tape.

(Elliot, reporter and weapons from storage unit; Mourad; weapons;
Mourad and Lucy meeting at restaurant)

Mr. TOPALIAN: (From hidden camera videotape) I didn’t know what was
in there.

Mr. ELLIOT: (Voiceover) We had an obstacle on our hands.

(Mourad and Lucy meeting at restaurant)

Mr. ELLIOT: We had to show somebody had knowledge of the inside
contents of that storage unit to make it a prosecutable case.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Clearly, 100 pounds of dynamite would not be
easy to overlook if it were stacked in boxes inside a small locker.
Nor would the danger it posed be easily ignored. We asked the ATF to
show us how much damage 100 pounds of dynamite could do. Notice how
careful these experienced people are. And remember that the dynamite
inside the locker had begun to crystallize and had become highly

(Boxes; photo of boxes of dynamite; man setting dynamite; explosion)

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Pete Elliot knew the danger. And he was
determined to find out who had left the explosives behind. Although
the original dynamite inside the locker had been destroyed, Elliot
had kept the boxes which still had on them something called the
ship-date code. The code acts as a kind of fingerprint, allowing the
explosives to be tracked to the manufacturer. ATF records showed this
particular dynamite had been stolen in 1976 from a construction site
in Michigan. Nearly two decades had passed, and the case was never
solved. Poring through the case file, Elliot found one of the prime
suspects. But would he talk?

(Boxes of dynamite; dynamite; Elliot at desk)

Mr. ELLIOT: It is all how you ask questions and present questions. I
ask everybody right off the bat, `Do you believe in God? Do you
believe there is a purpose for everything?’ And boom, he did the
right thing.

HOCKENBERRY: And a secret locked away for years becomes another piece
in Pete Elliot’s emerging puzzle. The man said he had been hired in
1976 by Mourad Topalian to acquire the explosives and have them
delivered to Cleveland.

So suddenly you had witnesses against Topalian.

Mr. ELLIOT: Right.

HOCKENBERRY: You had connections from the explosives to Topalian.
What about the weapons?

Mr. ELLIOT: We were able to develop a number of witnesses that could
show Mr. Topalian possessed and in some cases requested
certain–certain firearms. And we were able to link those directly to
Mourad Topalian and place them right in his hands.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) But what, if anything, did Topalian do about
the weapons? As Elliot crisscrossed the country, one witness led to
another. He began to hear unbelievable stories about a large group of
people who had formed a network in the 1970s, a network of terrorists
which operated throughout Europe and North America.

(Photo of weapons; news articles)

HOCKENBERRY: What did you begin to learn?

Mr. ELLIOT: I learned in between 1975 and 1985 that there were a
number of unsolved bombings, that there was a number of unsolved
assassinations that had took place.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) It was a wave of terrorism which swept
across Europe and North America during the ’70s, and 80s, all aimed
at Turkish officials and businesses. Armenian groups claimed
responsibility for assassinations of Turkish officials in the
Netherlands, France and Canada, as well as bombings in London, Paris,
Los Angeles and New York. But were they connected? Elliot was able to
link the explosives from the storage unit with two bombings in 1981,
one outside the Turkish consulate, and another at the Convention
Center in Anaheim, California.

(Bomb scene; bullet-ridden vehicle; crime scene; bombed car; boxes;
bomb site)

HOCKENBERRY: All of a sudden, the explosives in the storage unit have
in common explosives that have been used in actual terrorist

Mr. ELLIOT: All directed at Turkish individuals.

HOCKENBERRY: All directed at Turkish individuals. Most, if not all,
with Armenian suspects.

Mr. ELLIOT: Correct.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Armenian extremists at the time claimed
responsibility for the attacks, saying they were designed to avenge
the millions of Armenians murdered in 1915. Elliot learned that some
of the crimes in the US were carried out by the youngest members of
that network, many of them teen-agers at the time who were devoted to
the Armenian cause.

(Body being moved; old photos; bombed car)

Mr. ELLIOT: Every single Armenian witness that I interviewed believed
in their hearts and in their minds that the genocide took place and
that their cause was legitimate.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) These previously classified documents
obtained by DATELINE showed that as early as 1981 the FBI was aware
of an underground organization of Armenians, a network in which
members anticipated orders to shoot or bomb someone. And the chilling
echo of al-Qaeda’s tactics, according to Elliot, the witnesses said
that many of them were sent to training camps as far away as Beirut,
Lebanon. They were taught a variety of skills, including specialized
training in how to use guns and explosives, techniques of disguise
and infiltration, all useful for staging attacks.

(Documents; soldiers fighting)

Mr. ELLIOT: They’d go in and infiltrate Turkish ambassadors’ offices.
They’d dress up, in some instances, like a Turkish reporter. They’d
surveil–survey everything in there and come back and report it back
to one person.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Members of the network told Elliot they had
used those very skills in a brazen attack 20 years ago, at the United

(Person on stretcher; UN building)

Announcer: Who were some of the members of this global terror group?

Mr. ELLIOT: These were bombers.

(Voiceover) They had a lot of respect for Mr. Topalian.

(Mourad walking)

Announcer: When Time Bomb continues.


Announcer: We now return to Time Bomb.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The area around the United Nations is
ordinarily quiet on a Sunday afternoon. October 12th, 1980, was no
different. Only a few strollers out and about. So it wasn’t
surprising that no one noticed a blue Chevy parked just outside the
Turkish mission to the UN, just across from the main headquarters.
Inside the car, someone had packed five sticks of dynamite. Not much
compared to the 100 pounds of explosives left inside the storage
locker in Ohio. But as the ATF showed us, even a five-stick car bomb
creates an enormous blast. The bomb outside the Turkish mission went
off at about 10 in the morning. Three people were seriously hurt, and
the building was severely damaged.

(UN building; Turkish Center; buildings; explosives in box; explosion
of building; explosion of car; Turkish Center; man on stretcher; bomb

Unidentified Man #2: I saw a sheet of flame coming up from the car,
pieces flying in all directions.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Not long after the New York blast, a group
calling itself the Justice Commandos for the Armenian Genocide
claimed credit for the attack, as well as attacks that same day in
London and Los Angeles. But the UN attack was by far the most

(Bomb site)

Mr. ELLIOT: (Voiceover) Mr. Topalian had sent a number of people to
canvas the United Nations prior to that bombing.

(UN building through window)

Mr. ELLIOT: They reported back to one person, and that person was Mr.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Elliot says he was told that Topalian was
directly involved in planning the operation, had hand-delivered the
dynamite and personally directed planting of the car bomb.

(Photo of Mourad; highway; bomb site)

HOCKENBERRY: Now you’re as far as you can get from your original
theory of the Cleveland mafia.

Mr. ELLIOT: Right.

HOCKENBERRY: And it’s beginning to look like some sort of
international terrorism network.

Mr. ELLIOT: Yes, definitely.

HOCKENBERRY: Pete Elliot was discovering that Mourad Topalian would
not just a man who could use his charisma to schmooz with the
president of the United States and members of Congress. According to
people who knew him, he was also a man who could use that charisma to
motivate others to violence in the name of the Armenian cause.

Mr. ELLIOT: I can tell you that every single Armenian told me stories
of their about their grandparents and about their relatives, and how
generations were cut off. I heard it, I saw their tears, I saw them
cry, I saw some of them fall to the ground. And these were bombers.
These were people that handled explosives. I heard them; they had a
lot of respect for Mr. Topalian.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) But the Armenian activists who had been
willing to help plan and execute bombing attacks in the ’80s had
become teachers, doctors, and bankers by the ’90s. They thought they
had put their violent past behind them.

(Photos of bombings)

HOCKENBERRY: These witnesses described Topalian as a leader, as
someone they were emotionally connected to. Why the heck did they
talk to you?

Mr. ELLIOT: They’re different people now. They worked for their
cause. They didn’t have anything to lose 25 years ago, but today they

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Elliot wasn’t the first to think Topalian
might have been involved in the New York bombing. In 1988, he was
questioned about it by the FBI, but denied participating in the
attack. The witnesses now talking to Pete Elliot were telling a
different story. In almost every case, he says, the witnesses decided
to come forward only after they were told that the abandoned
explosives had been left in a place that posed so much danger to so
many people.

(Bomb site; explosives box; child care sign)

Mr. ELLIOT: They couldn’t believe Mr. Topalian was stupid enough to
still have these explosives, but more stupid to keep them next to a
daycare center, a gas station and a school.

HOCKENBERRY: You’ve been investigating this case, you’ve been talking
to everybody. These are people with bombs. Were you worried about
something happening to you?

Mr. ELLIOT: I guess that is always in the back of your–back of your
mind. And I believe you become numb to potentially what could happen
to you. There is never any direct threats towards me.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) But some militant members of the Armenia
community were worried about what Topalian might say if he was ever
taken into custody, silencing a former leader suddenly looked like a
good idea.


Mr. ELLIOT: Word was out that Mr. Topalian, if he would talk, could
potentially put together a lot of Armenian crimes directed at the
Turks from years and years ago.

HOCKENBERRY: So you were concerned at this point that suddenly this
guy with the bulls-eye around his head…

Mr. ELLIOT: Right. Right.

HOCKENBERRY: …that you’ve been tracking could possibly be killed?

Mr. ELLIOT: Yes.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The year-long pursuit between Pete Elliot,
the hunter, and Mourad Topalian, the hunted, had reached a
crossroads. But if he was to warn Topalian, Elliot would have to
knock on Topalian’s front door and meet him face-to-face.

(Mourad walking; Mourad entering vehicle)

HOCKENBERRY: What happened when you identified yourself as Agent Pete
Elliot of the ATF?

Mr. ELLIOT: He looked completely in shock. I said, `Listen, I did
receive information that your life could potentially be in danger.
I’m going to give you the opportunity, you want to sit down and talk
to me, we can try to work this whole thing out.’ And he never took me
up on that offer.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Instead, Elliot says Topalian dared Elliot
to make his case or drop the investigation all together. Elliot knew
he needed airtight evidence. He began to wonder if there had been
something else, some other clue inside the locker that perhaps he
overlooked. Something that would prove that Topalian knew what was in
there. What about that bank deposit envelope he’d found on top of one
of the boxes of dynamite?

(Photo of Mourad; excerpt of storage locker crime scene; photo of
bank deposit envelope)

Mr. ELLIOT: The address was 25890 Emery Road in Warrensville Heights,
from a Cleveland Trust that went out of business, I believe, in about
1979. I was able to dig and dig, and find out that Mourad Topalian
had an account at that specific branch.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Once more, the bank branch had been just a
few doors down from Topalian’s convenience store. One more piece of
the puzzle. But it still wasn’t enough. Then Elliot remembered the
final item he’d found in the locker: the torn trench coat lying on
top of the explosives boxes.

(Convenience store; photo of trench coat)

Mr. ELLIOT: Sent that–that up to our ATF lab, and they were able to
find two very old hairs from 20 years ago that were inside one of the
sleeves, I believe, of that coat.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) Elliot had the hairs sent to a lab for DNA
analysis. It was a long shot, but he knew the results could be
critical to the case.


Mr. ELLIOT: I still remember the day when I received the call from
the lab, and I think they had to actually pull me out of the roof of
my building because I jumped so high when they told me it matched up
to Mr. Topalian’s.

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) It was the last decisive piece in what
seemed like a thousand piece puzzle. Elliot finally had the evidence
he needed to make an arrest.

(Lab equipment)

Mr. ELLIOT: Went relatively pretty easy. He got out of his car, I
walked up to him, told him he was under arrest. He was in complete
and utter shock.

HOCKENBERRY: Do you remember what you said to Pete Elliot at that

Mr. OLEKSIAK: Yes, as a matter of fact–as a matter of fact, we
did–we shook hands and we said, `We did it. We did what we had to
do. We did what we wanted to do.’

HOCKENBERRY: `We did it. We did what we wanted to do. So, burgers or
pizza for lunch?’

Mr. OLEKSIAK: That’s about it. That’s about right. That’s exactly

Announcer: The wheels of justice catch up with Mourad Topalian.

Mr. ELLIOT: It may be a month, it may be a year, but it could be 25
years later that the government could come back in your life and make
you accountable for your actions.

Announcer: The conclusion of Time Bomb.


Announcer: We now return to Time Bomb.

PHILLIPS: Returning to our story, after a relentless four-year
investigation, federal agent Pete Elliot has finally made an arrest
in the mystery of the abandoned storage locker packed with deadly
explosives, machine guns and other weapons. But after so many years,
would the suspect Mourad Topalian face justice? Here again, John

HOCKENBERRY: (Voiceover) The wave of Armenian terrorism against
Turkish interests in the United States ended in the mid ’80s. Pete
Elliot’s investigation had stirred up memories that no doubt many
hoped had finally faded away. As for Mourad Topalian, he was charged
with numerous crimes, including conspiracy to steal, transport and
use explosives. The government said he had planned acts of violence
against Turkish government facilities and businesses and people of
Turkish descent. But he was never convicted of conspiracy or any acts
of violence, including the bombing at the United Nations.

Topalian pled guilty to storing stolen explosives and possession of
machine guns. In January 2001, he was given the maximum sentence of
37 months in prison. In a letter to the judge, Topalian said the
locker was supposed to be used to store records of people
contributing to the Armenian cause. And he insisted the locker had
not been opened for 15 years.

Topalian always claimed that Pete Elliot’s investigation was designed
to discredit the Armenian cause. We don’t know now if Topalian still
thinks what he did to further that cause was just. He declined
repeated requests for an interview. Nor do we know if he expected his
powerful political connections to somehow shield him from
prosecution, or if he figured there was just no way to trace him to
that abandoned storage room back in Bedford. One thing is certain,
Mourad Topalian didn’t figure on ATF Agent Pete Elliot.

(Bullet-ridden vehicle; body being moved; person on stretcher; bomb
site; Mourad speaking with men; mug shot of Mourad; storage locker
door; old photos; photo of Mourad; photo of Mourad with men and Bill
Clinton; storage locker door; Mourad entering building)

Mr. ELLIOT: I looked and I didn’t quit. I just kept digging, I kept
digging, and I kept digging.

HOCKENBERRY: But maybe that’s one of the lessons here. That powerful
people, like Topalian…

Mr. ELLIOT: Right.

HOCKENBERRY: …sometimes get a pass. But they don’t get a pass from
an agent who is willing to go all the way for the truth.

Mr. ELLIOT: It may be a day, it may be a month, it may be a year, but
it could be 25 years later that people…

(Voiceover) …the government could come back into your life and make
you accountable for your actions that happened 25 years ago.

(Mourad mug shot)

PHILLIPS: Two years ago, President Bush named Pete Elliot US Marshal
for Cleveland, Ohio. Mourad Topalian was released from federal prison
in 2003 and is still under law enforcement supervision until
September of next year.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress