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Unwelcome Shriners

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TAMPA — Red-faced government officials are scrambling to justify and explain their raid on a “suspected domestic terrorist group” based in Florida, which turned out to be a well-known fraternal organization.

Shortly after eight o’clock in the morning, special agents of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security swooped in to serve search warrants, seizing files and computers at the headquarters of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, also commonly known as the Shriners.

“We had received credible intelligence of an upcoming domestic terrorist plot involving car bombs to be unleashed in Denver, Colorado, over the July Fourth weekend,” said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano at a hastily called press conference. “We have to take all such threats seriously and simply cannot blindly discriminate for or against groups because of our societal preconceptions and personal prejudices.”

The Shriners International website describes itself as a fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth. The group claims to have approximately 340,000 members from 193 temples (chapters) in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and the Republic of Panama, which, Napolitano noted, would have made it the largest known terrorist cell to be uncovered in the United States.

The group is scheduled to hold their 137th Imperial Session in Denver Colorado, July 3-7, 2011. Thousands of Shriners are expected to attend, including clown units, motor patrols, band units.

The organization is best-known for the Shriners Hospitals for Children they administer and the red fezzes that members wear.

The FBI is still reviewing the materials seized in the raid. No arrests have been made.

Attorney General Eric Holder declined to comment on what his office said is an “ongoing investigation.”

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