Investigators identify more than a dozen hijacking suspects

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 13, 2001

The Associated Press

Thursday, September 13, 2001

The Natchez Democrat

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WASHINGTON – Federal authorities have identified more than

a dozen hijackers of Middle Eastern descent in Tuesday’s bombings

and gathered evidence linking them to Osama bin Laden and other

terrorist networks, law enforcement officials said.

The massive investigation stretched from the Canadian border,

where officials suspect some of the hijackers entered the country,

to Florida, where some of the participants are believed to have

learned how to fly commercial jetliners before the attacks. Locations

in Massachusetts and Florida were searched for evidence.

The names of two men being sought by authorities emerged in

Florida. There, the FBI interviewed a family that gave them temporary

shelter a year ago.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The

Associated Press that multiple cells of terrorist groups participated

and that hijackers had possible ties to countries that included

Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The identities of more than a dozen of the men who hijacked

four planes with knives and threats of bombs has been ascertained,

the officials said. Several hijackers had pilot’s licenses. At

least one hijacker on each of the four planes was trained at a

U.S. flight school, said Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy

Tucker. The flight schools were in Florida and at least one other


The hijackers used both cash and credit cards to purchase their

plane tickets and hotel rooms.

Authorities detained at least a half dozen people in Massachusetts

and Florida on unrelated local warrants and immigration charges

and were questioning them about their possible ties to the hijackers.

No charges related to the attacks had been filed. Search warrants

were executed in Florida, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Sealed

warrants went out in several other states, officials said.

”We’re attempting to recreate the travels of each of the hijackers

on the planes – either the hijackers themselves or their associates,”

FBI Director Robert Mueller said.

For some of the suspected accomplices, ”we have information

as to involvement with individual terrorist groups,” Mueller

added. He declined to say which groups or whether they were connected

to bin Laden.

Officials said authorities were gathering evidence that the

terrorist cells may have had prior involvement in earlier plots

against the United States, and may have been involved with bin

Laden. That includes the USS Cole bombing in Yemen and the foiled

attack on U.S. soil during the millennium celebrations.

”This could have been the result of several terrorist kingpins

working together. We’re investigating that possibility,” one

law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity told

The Associated Press.

Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance

Committee, said the briefing he received Wednesday from law enforcement

left him with the same impression.

”Most of it today points to bin Laden but the speculation

at the end of the road is that he and his network were very much

involved with Hezbollah, Fatah and other” terrorist organizations,

Grassley said.

The senator said authorities told him all the hijackers were

of Middle Eastern descent and that they had ”a tremendous amount

of ground support for each hijacker.”

A Venice, Fla., man said FBI agents told him that two men who

stayed in his home while training at a local flight school were

involved in the attacks. Charlie Voss, a former employee at Huffman

Aviation in Venice said the FBI told him one of men was named

Mohamed Atta. A student at Huffman Aviation identified the second

man as Marwan Alshehhi.

The FBI in Miami issued a national bulletin for law enforcement

agencies to look out for two cars. Records with the Florida Division

of Motor Vehicles show that one of the vehicles the FBI was pursuing

– a 1989 red Pontiac – was registered to Atta, who previously

had a driver’s license in Egypt.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said numerous promising leads

were being followed up. ”The Department of Justice has undertaken

perhaps the most massive and intensive investigation ever conducted

in this country,” he said.

Ashcroft said authorities were conducting interviews and reviewing

airline manifests, rental car records and pay phone records. He

said between three and six hijackers, armed with knives and box

cutters, seized control of the four commercial jets. Two hit New

York’s World Trade Center, a third smashed into the Pentagon and

a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania.

Some 4,000 special agents and 3,000 support personnel are assisting

in the investigation, and 400 FBI laboratory specialists are at

the crime scenes in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Evidence has been collected at the Pentagon and Pennsylvania

site, but investigators have not yet been able to start work at

the World Trade Center, where the search for survivors continued.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they

were investigating whether one group of hijackers crossed the

Canadian border at a checkpoint and made their way to Boston,

where an American Airlines flight was hijacked and flown into

the World Trade Center.