This curious aside is from a fascinating (if overlong) Wired article about a radioactive container that turned up in a Genoan port:
It was hardly the first fishy shipment to pass through Gioia Tauro. Famously, just six weeks after 9/11, workers there heard noises coming from inside a container being transshipped to Nova Scotia via Rotterdam. Inside, police found an Egyptian-born Canadian carrying a Canadian passport, a satellite phone, a cell phone, a laptop, cameras, maps, and security passes to airports in Canada, Thailand, and Egypt. The container’s interior was outfitted with a bed, a water supply, a heater, and a toilet. Nicknamed Container Bob, the man posted bail in Italian court and was never seen again.
(via Why Is This Cargo Container Emitting So Much Radiation? – wired.com)
Apparently he also had ‘an airline mechanic’s certificate valid for Chicago’s O’Hare and New York’s Kennedy airports.’1 He was ‘a well-dressed man’ only caught because he was drilling ventilation holes.2
Despite the ‘Container Bob’ nickname, ABC News reported at the time that he was Rizk Amid Farid, then 43.
Italian investigators say everything about Farid — his documents and claims about himself — appear to be either false or obscured. They have checked his stories with police in other countries — including Egypt, Canada and the United States — and believe none has panned out. Canadian investigators are further investigating the suspect’s background.
Though police have not said they have any direct evidence tying Farid to terrorism, he is the first person to be arrested in Italy on the basis of a new counterterrorism law passed last week in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Under the new law, he can be held for at least six months as investigators try to determine whether he is a terrorist.
A prosecutor said the stowaway had studied in Egypt and in North America to qualify as a commercial jet engine mechanic. Before leaving Egypt, however, he was believed to be working at a magazine distribution company. Investigators say he claimed to be “running away” from a powerful brother-in-law in Egypt and had traveled in the container for five days.
(via Italian Police Probe Man Found in Box – 25 October 2001 – abcnews.go.com)
The Guardian wrote a very different story however, calling him ‘Container Boy’ and describing his travel arrangements as a less elaborate ‘bed and a bucket’.
Container Boy, it appears, is one less thing to worry about. His story is that he was actually fleeing Islamic fundamentalists. An Italian-language newspaper in Canada reports that his family are Christians, but his sister had married, a Muslim who was aggressively trying to convert them all to Islam.
The sister divorced her husband, and fled to Canada. Mr Rizk is said to have feared that his brother-in-law would try to stop him from leaving the country. His lawyer said he has been a Canadian citizen for almost 20 years.
He would have had no trouble getting into Canada with his passport, so his story that he confined himself to a box in order to get out of Egypt appears to make some sense.
He had a plane ticket to Montreal, but it appears he thought he had a better chance of slipping away hidden on board a ship. The satellite phone, according to his lawyer, was to call his mother.
(via Container Boy sparks terror fears – 29 October 2001 – guardian.co.uk)
I wasn’t able to find any more recent news.
- Boom Boxes: Shipping Containers and Terrorists [PDF] – brie.berkeley.edu
- Terror at Sea – The Maritime Threat – ict.org.il
UPDATE 2011.10.31: Only yesterday someone created a Wikipedia entry for ‘Container Bob’, perhaps even based on my research (this page ranks for the term and has been getting decent traffic recently). Sadly, the Wikipedians haven’t unearthed any more recent news either.
UPDATE 2011.11.02: Thanks to Tim for leaving a comment with a link to some more information, and a reference to other “Cadillac containers”.
[…] The use of containers to gain entry to North America is a well-established trick, part of the vast volume of human smuggling that relies on the far vaster volume of ordinary trade to penetrate the borders. And though the customers willing to transport themselves this way often arrive in very poor shape (indeed, sometimes dead), Cadillac containers like Rizk’s have been seen before. Still, Rizk never adequately explained his setup, or why as a Canadian citizen he had not simply flown. Upon his arrest he hired an attorney named Michele Filippo Italiano, whose services I can recommend. Italiano said that Rizk’s decision to travel in a container was completely innocent: “He had fallen out with his brother-in-law in Cairo and feared he would be prevented from leaving Egypt.” An Italian court released Rizk on bail in November of 2001, at which point he vanished, leaving no trace.
Anarchy at Sea by William Langewiesche – wesjones.com
Photo: SkyWhisperer (CC BY-NC-SA)
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Thank you for digging up these articles. I had just read the Wired story and was intrigued by the mention of Container Bob.
Thanks Lane. I’ve had a reasonable stream of traffic to this page, so I guess a lot of other people had their curiosity piqued too. I was disappointed I couldn’t find anything else from the subsequent ten years.
An article called “Anarchy at Sea” at http://www.wesjones.com/anarchy.htm has a mention, with a tantalizing mention of other “Cadillac containers.”
Thanks Tim, that is interesting. I’ve added the relevant paragraph to my write-up above.