10 chief suspects at large

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10 chief suspects at large

Special report: terrorism in the US

Staff and agencies Thursday September 13, 2001

The FBI has identified a team of as many as 50 terrorists who were involved in the attacks on New York and Washington, and 10 are reportedly still at large, it emerged today. Citing an unidentified source close to the investigation, the Los Angeles Times' website reported that 40 "infiltrators" had been accounted for, including those who died in the suicide attacks, which left a remaining 10 at large.

The US attorney general, John Ashcroft, said 12 to 24 hijackers commandeered the four planes with knives and threats of bombs. And a government official said another two dozen or so are believed to have assisted them.

Mr Ashcroft would not be specific on the agents' duties, nor would he say whether arrests of hijackers' accomplices were imminent.

However, German police today arrested a man in a raid on a Hamburg flat where two of the terrorists are believed to have lived. He is being held on suspicion of murder and attacking air traffic as well as membership of a terrorist organisation.

US authorities detained at least a half dozen people in Massachusetts and Florida on immigration charges and local warrants unrelated to the attacks, but were questioning them about possible ties to the hijackers.

Search warrants were executed in Florida, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Sealed warrants went out in several other states, officials said.

A man in Venice, Florida, 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.

Citing federal authorities, the Miami Herald reported today that Mr Atta was one of four suspects who died on American Airlines Flight 11, the first jetliner to crash into the World Trade Centre.

"This could have been the result of several terrorist kingpins working together. We're investigating that possibility," one law enforcement official told the Associated Press news agency.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said investigators are looking into whether one group of hijackers crossed the Canadian border at a checkpoint and made their way to Boston, where two jetliners were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Centre.

Senator Charles Grassley, of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate finance committee, said the briefing he received yesterday from law enforcement left him with the same impression.

He said "Most of it today points to Osama 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 organisations].

Law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity. said that "multiple cells" of terrorist groups participated in the operation and the hijackers had possible ties to countries that included Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

At least one hijacker on each of the four planes in Tuesday's highly choreographed, well-financed attacks was trained at a US flight school, authorities said. The LA Times said authorities believe 27 suspected terrorists received pilot training.

The FBI's investigation stretches from the Canadian border to Florida, where some of the participants learned how to fly commercial planes before the attacks. The FBI alone has deployed some 4,000 special agents and 3,000 support personnel.

Mr Ashcroft said: "We are pursuing thousands of credible leads; we're making some progress. There's a sense of urgency that's understood by all of us."

He described the investigation as the largest in American history.

Making the rounds of the morning television talk shows, he said authorities were deploying hundreds of US marshals and other agents to airports and airplanes today to increase security with the gradual resumption of commercial flights, expected by 11am EST (4pm BST).

Mr Ashcroft said the search for accomplices was complicated by the death of the hijackers, some of whom had pilots' licenses, but he stressed an identifiable trail has been left.

Officials said authorities were gathering evidence that the terrorist cells may have had prior involvement in earlier plots against the US, and may have been involved with Saudi exile Osama bin Laden. The previous plots include the USS Cole bombing in Yemen.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 13, 2001

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