FBI Has Identified Hijackers, Accomplices, FBI Says (Update5)
By Anna Marie Stolley and William McQuillen
Washington, Sept. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government has identified many of the hijackers and some of their associates in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, senior law-enforcement officials said.
The government also has ``credible evidence'' that the White House and Air Force One were additional targets of the hijacking conspiracy, said Attorney General John Ashcroft. He provided no details about that evidence.
The Central Intelligence Agency said it suspects a network of Islamic fundamentalists headed by Saudi-born extremist Osama bin Laden was behind the terrorist attacks, members of Congress said. Investigators made it clear they are close to a breakthrough in determining the identities of key participants in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said the investigation also has developed a wealth of leads about yesterday's attacks. ``We are pursuing those leads aggressively,'' he said. Law enforcement officials have been active in Boston; Providence, Rhode Island, and Florida.
Mueller said there have been no arrests of terrorism suspects, though some individuals have been detained on immigration grounds.
Ashcroft said federal investigators have been collecting ``passenger manifests, rental car receipts, telephone logs, videotape from parking garages and pay phones at all scenes for review and appropriate follow-up interviews.''
The FBI has devoted 4,000 special agents and 3,000 support personnel to the investigation. Ashcroft said each of the four aircraft was hijacked by three to six men wielding knives and box cutters and, in some cases, making bomb threats. He said several were trained in the U.S. as pilots.
Mueller said the first goal was to identify the hijackers and their immediate associates for detention, so the safety of U.S. air travel could be assured. The second goal is to determine ``who assisted the hijackers not only in this country but overseas.''
``We have identified many of the hijackers involved,'' Mueller said at a joint press conference with Ashcroft. ``We will not stop and leave no stone unturned until we determine who was responsible for this attack on our freedom.''
Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said the airliners' flight recorders had not been retrieved from the World Trade Center or Pentagon sites. Justice Department officials could not say whether the recorder had been recovered at the crash scene of a fourth hijacked airliner in Pennsylvania.
Tucker said search warrants were executed in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Florida and are under seal in other unidentified states.
Some of those identified as hijackers attended flight schools in different states and some had commercial pilot's licenses, Tucker said. Tucker said the suspected hijackers used cash and credit cards to buy airline tickets and hotel rooms.
In Florida, FBI agents investigated the movements of two men who were identified as being on one of the hijacked planes, according to the Web site of the Palm Beach Post. Last week, the men went to a bar in Hollywood, Florida, north of Miami, and one of the men, Mohamed Atta, told a bartender that he was a pilot, the report said.
Last night and this morning, the FBI searched a one-bedroom apartment that Atta rented for $950 a month at the Tara Gardens condominium complex in Coral Springs, Florida, said Atta's neighbor, Ziggy Szymczak. Neighbors also were interviewed by investigators this morning, he said.
``He didn't socialize too much with other neighbors,'' Szymczak said in a telephone interview. ``People are saying they are moving out of Tara Gardens where he used to live. I don't know why they're scared. He's not there anymore.''
Atta and a second man named Marwan trained in July 2000 at Huffman Aviation in Venice on Florida's gulf coast, said Charles Voss, a former bookkeeper who let the men stay at his home in Venice for a week. He said they kept to themselves and their English was ``not totally good but not bad.''
The flight school often advertises for students in Europe and trains on small aircraft such as Pipers and Cessnas, Voss said. The men, who said they were from Germany, arrived in a rental car and later bought a red Pontiac Grand Am from a local dealership using his address, Voss said.
``The FBI wanted to talk to us first thing this morning,'' Voss said in a telephone interview. ``It was obviously quite a shock to me. We just thought we were doing a favor for some students at the flight school.''
The FBI also searched hotels in the Boston area, CNN and other news outlets reported.
Two of the four hijacked planes had flown out of Logan Airport in Boston. Authorities found two bags belonging to one of five suspected hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11, according to the Boston Globe and Boston Herald.
The bags contained a copy of the Koran, an instructional video on flying commercial airliners and a fuel-consumption calculator, the newspapers said. The bags belonged to a man who authorities believe boarded Flight 11 after flying to Boston from Portland, Maine, the reports said. His bags missed the connection.
Time magazine reported on its Web site that unidentified U.S. officials said they had evidence that some of the terrorists had flown for Saudi Airlines. Time also said two men apparently on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon got into the U.S. even though they were on an FBI border watch list as associates of an Islamic Jihad terror group.
Maine Governor Angus King said two suspects in the terrorist attacks flew to Boston from Portland International Jetport in Portland, Maine, the Associated Press reported.
WCVB-TV Channel 5 reported on its Web site that the FBI and Massachusetts state police moved a late-model, white Mitsubishi Mirage with Virginia license plates to an out-of-town FBI garage for processing at about 9 p.m. yesterday. The car may be connected to the hijacking, the report said.
Western governments agree that Bin Laden was probably behind yesterday's attacks against the U.S., German Chancellery Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters. The Washington Post cited unidentified U.S. officials as saying the percentage of probability of a Bin Laden link is in ``the high 90s.''