Suspects removed at gunpoint from jets

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Suspects Removed at Gunpoint From Jets (NEW ATTEMPT)

By JOHN SOLOMON Associated Press Writer

September 14, 2001, 4:45 AM EDT

WASHINGTON -- Up to 10 people of Middle Eastern descent were detained at two New York airports -- at least three removed at gunpoint from a Los Angeles-bound jet, sources told The Associated Press.

At least some of the people detained Thursday were carrying knives, according to published reports. Authorities were investigating whether the two groups -- detained at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports -- were more would-be hijackers or people related to the attack trying to flee the New York area.

One man was arrested with a fake pilot's license, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said. Several of those detained had attempted to board airlines Tuesday around the time of the hijackings but were turned away and fled, a U.S. official requesting anonymity told the AP.

The incidents caused the region's three major airports _ Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark, N.J. -- to close again just hours after service was restored.

The Washington Post, citing unidentified government sources, reported that two armed groups of five people each were detained with knives, false identification and open tickets dated Tuesday _ the day of the attacks. ABC News also reported that those detained were carrying knives.

A source familiar with the workings of the airline industry told the AP that law enforcement officers secretly boarded a plane at Kennedy using a catering cart. The officers, with weapons drawn, then removed the three from the plane.

One of those being detained was believed to have had flight training similar to that obtained by Tuesday's hijackers, the U.S. official said. The Post reported that those detained had certificates from the same Florida training school attended by some members of Tuesday's hijackings.

A passenger on a San Jose-bound American Airlines jet at Kennedy told The New York Times that officers boarded and closely questioned about 15 people. "Anyone with dark skin or who spoke with an accent was taken aside and searched," passenger Mike Glass of Seattle told the Times. "And then they went to any male with too much facial hair."

Also, the Times, quoting unidentified law enforcement sources, reported that two men were detained from a Saudi aircraft at Newark after being identified on a terrorist watch list.

Separately, new information emerged about Tuesday's events. A law enforcement source told the AP that the FBI was investigating an altercation at Kennedy on Tuesday, and trying to understand whether that incident might have been an aborted hijacking attempt.

Tuesday's incident occurred about 9 a.m. -- around the same time two hijacked jet airliners crashed into the World Trade Center towers. After passengers had boarded United Airlines Flight 23, bound for Los Angeles, officials told them it had been canceled. Three males refused to disembark and argued with the flight crew, who called airport security. The men vanished before security arrived, the source said.

There have been persistent, unconfirmed reports that a fifth hijacking had been attempted Tuesday but somehow averted.

Copyright 2001, The Associated Press

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), September 14, 2001


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