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,
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.