Local News

Several Protesters Arrested At Johnston Airport

Posted November 18, 2005 5:57 a.m. EST

— A hub in the war on terror might be right in our back yard.

Most people think of the war on terror as taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it's more global. Some of the terror raids we hear about overseas may start in Johnston County with the help of Aero Contractors.

There are reports the flight company works for the CIA and helps snatch terror suspects around the world. Several countries are pressuring the U.S. government, claiming the operation violates human rights.

Friday morning, more than a dozen people showed up at the airport to protest what they call the terror taxi.

A small group wants to end the torture of terrorism suspects. So they're starting where secret CIA flights are said to begin.

"Johnston County is our first step," said Louise Lears of the organization Stop Torture Now.

She traveled from St. Louis to get Johnston County officials to listen to her.

CBS's "60 Minutes" and other news agencies have linked Aero Contractors in Smithfield to secret CIA flights in which suspects are reportedly abducted and tortured around the world.

Aero Contractors operates out of a blue hangar at the Johnston County Airport. Protestors want Johnston County to step in.

"If the allegations are true (we hope) to ask Aero Contractors to cease and desist the illegal activity," said Lears.

Fourteen protestors were arrested Friday after they refused to leave Aero Contractors property.

Aero Contractors leases the property at the Johnston County Airport, so county officials aren't sure what they can realistically do.

"I don't think we can do anything," said County Manager Rick Hester. "We told them we'd take their information and give it to the Johnston County Board of Commissioners for their information," he added.

Aero Contractors isn't commenting.

However, back in March they told WRAL they had government contracts, one of which is classified. They said they had leased the planes in question, but for domestic flights only. The company started in 1979 and its work has always been the source of local mystery.

It's a mystery the protestors think locals should shine some light on.

"They have a responsibility for that property, it's owned by the county," said Lears.

The company president told us over the phone that the protestors don't know the whole story. He can't elaborate because, he said, he's not allowed to talk about the government contracts.

County Manager Rick Hester said he doesn't know what the company does, either.