U.S. casts global dragnet

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Federal authorities on Saturday held at least 25 people wanted for questioning in connection with last week's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and stepped up nationwide manhunts for others believed linked to the plot, Justice Department officials said.

In New York, officials issued an arrest warrant for a man they described as a "material witness" in the attacks, the second in as many days. Officials said they expected to issue more warrants soon.

Some of the 25 others detained by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service on immigration charges were cooperating with the investigation, a Justice Department official said. Most of those held appear on the FBI's list of more than 100 people it wants to question regarding the deadly suicide skyjacking attacks Tuesday. Some were originally picked up in connection with other cases, but all were being detained because of possible links with the hijackings.

For the first time, President Bush directly accused Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden of being the "prime suspect" in Tuesday's coordinated attack. At the same time, other officials cautioned that more than one group of terrorists may be involved. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said the investigation was proceeding with "reasonable success" so far.

As U.S. law-enforcement officials worked with authorities overseas to intensify the global dragnet, more details emerged about the 19 hijackers identified by the Justice Department as responsible for Tuesday's attacks, and how they integrated themselves into U.S. suburbs in preparation for their deadly flights.

Sources confirmed that the FBI had been seeking two of the suspected hijackers, Khalid Al-Midhar and Salem Alhamzi, for several weeks before Tuesday's attacks. Al-Midhar had been seen in Malaysia with an unnamed suspect in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. The CIA asked the INS to put Al-Midhar's name on the watch list, the sources said, but authorities discovered he had already entered the country.

A defense official told the Los Angeles Times that two of the hijackers were former Saudi fighter pilots who had once studied at two prominent U.S. military programs, the Defense Language School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and the Air Force's Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

Even as funerals began in Washington and New York for the first of as many as 5,000 people feared dead, authorities scoured neighborhoods from San Diego to South Florida, hoping to find links and patterns between the 19 men the FBI has identified as being directly responsible for the attacks.

FBI agents are focusing their attention on certain parts of the country, mostly where the hijackers lived or received their pilot training.

"Texas, Florida, New York, Boston and New Jersey are experiencing intense activity related to this investigation," a Justice Department official said.

The list of 19 hijackers the Justice Department released Friday suggested that they lived either in Florida or California and the New York-New Jersey area.

Chicago is a secondary focus of the investigation because its FBI field office is handling all contacts with United Airlines. Two United flights were among the four hijacked Tuesday. United 175 was the second plane to slam into the World Trade Center and United 93 crashed in a field outside Pittsburgh.

Among the 25 people being questioned Saturday in connection with the attack are two men seized Wednesday from an Amtrak train in Texas and questioned by the FBI. The two men have been sent to New York, where the city's FBI field office is playing a major role in coordinating the investigation.

In Ft. Worth, officials in the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department said the two men aboard the train identified themselves as Ayub Ali Khan, 51, and Mohammed Jaweed Azmath, 47. The men said they were from India.

Local authorities in Texas said that last Tuesday the men were on a flight from Newark to San Antonio. But after the suicide crashes, their TWA flight was diverted to St. Louis.

The men then boarded an Amtrak train bound for San Antonio, officials said, but were detained in Ft. Worth after they were reportedly involved in a fight on the train.

Manhunt intensifies

As investigators questioned those in federal custody, authorities were working on several fronts to track others wanted in connection with the plot and to deter further terrorist attacks.

An all-points bulletin was issued for Amer Kamfar, a man the FBI believes helped those who carried out the attack. Kamfar, who last lived in the 2000 block of 9th Place in Vero Beach, Fla., has not been seen since Tuesday.

Kamfar, also known as Amer Taiybkamfar, was reported to have lived in Florida for the last 18 months, moving there from Venice, Calif.

In the Chicago suburb of Berwyn, Kamfar's former landlord, Frances Steiner, said she has spoken to the FBI several times about Kamfar. Steiner said the FBI searched the Florida home she owns last Wednesday, and that neighbors said agents hauled away small boxes and materials in small bags.

Authorities told her real estate agent, who had arranged the lease with Kamfar in June 2000, that FBI agents were looking for Kamfar because they suspected he was armed, Steiner said. The FBI told the agent that they were looking for a gray Chrysler van, she said.

On the lease, Kamfar had listed that he had five children, ranging in age from 4 to 16, and that he had been employed for 18 years at Saudi Arabian Airlines. Steiner said her agent had learned of Kamfar's interest in the three-bedroom ranch home from Adnan Bukhari, who was questioned by the FBI and released last week.

In the Dallas suburb of Arlington, authorities said they had been looking for a Muslim cleric named Moataz Al-Hallak since Wednesday. The FBI joined the search, police said, after Al-Hallak vanished with his wife and children.

Al-Hallak was removed as the leader of his suburban mosque last year after fellow believers questioned his interpretation of Muslim theology. In 1999, he was called to testify in the U.S. Embassy bombings linked to bin Laden. Al-Hallak has denied any links to the alleged terrorist mastermind.

In Jersey City, N.J., Police Director James Carter on Saturday said a man was arrested in connection with the attack on the towers, Reuters reported.

"A joint effort between federal agents and Jersey City police resulted in the arrest of one man," Carter said. He declined to name the man or to specify charges.

"It's an ongoing investigation," he said.

Carter said the man was taken into custody in an apartment in the city. Jersey City is across the Hudson River from New York.

Also in Jersey City, the FBI searched an apartment building and brought in at least two people for questioning, FBI agent Sandra Carroll said.

In addition, agents were questioning three men arrested Thursday in Elizabeth, N.J. When detained by authorities, the men were carrying one-way plane tickets to Syria and more than $11,000 in cash.

In New York, authorities questioned a man of Middle Eastern descent who was arrested Friday as a "material witness" in the terrorist attack. He was stopped by Port Authority police at Kennedy Airport on Thursday night because he possessed a false pilot's license.

The 25 detainees held by the INS have not been charged with any crime related to the hijackings. By law, authorities can hold individuals on suspected immigration violations for a "reasonable time" before deciding whether to charge them.

From Germany to Mexico

In Germany, officials working with U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI said two of the suspected hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, lived in Hamburg. On Saturday the officials identified a third suspected hijacker who lived there as Ziad Jarrahi, 27, a Lebanese national who studied aircraft construction in the city.

Jarrahi, originally from the village of Al Marj in the eastern Bekaa Valley, east of Beirut, left Germany for the U.S. in June 2000, German officials said. He had been in Germany for four years, German and Lebanese officials said today, but it is unclear where he studied.

Jarrahi was reported missing this week by his German girlfriend, who was taken into custody for questioning. Police raided the girlfriend's apartment Friday and seized "airplane-related documents" found in a suitcase, officials said.

Germany's lead federal prosecutor, Kay Nehm, said Jarrahi had at times lived at the same Marien Street address in Hamburg as Atta and Al-Shehhi. German police are also looking for Said Bajhari, 26, a German national who like Atta and Al-Shehhi was a student at Hamburg's Technical University. In December 1998, Bajhari along with Atta rented the Hamburg flat that German police believe became the headquarters for a terrorist cell.

Nehm said Atta was part of a cell of Islamic terrorists who plotted attacks against U.S. targets but added Saturday that the German authorities have found no evidence linking the Hamburg group to bin Laden. Lebanese officials said they had established no ties between Jarrahi and his family and bin Laden.

In Washington, officials were studying the data and voice recorders from American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 that hit the Pentagon. But the data recorder suffered "severe damage," a Justice Department official said, and it is not clear how much information it will yield. The voice recorder is still being analyzed by the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Authorities have also recovered the recorders from the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. But they are so far dissatisfied with the amount of information they can glean from them, and have sent them to the manufacturer in hopes of obtaining better information.

"We have followed up with the manufacturer to see if they have any better way of getting the information," a Justice Department official said. "I know there has been some concern about it, but we are still hopeful and we are pursuing all avenues."

The black boxes from the two planes that hit the World Trade Center are still buried in rubble. It is not clear when or if they will be located, or whether they will be in any shape to provide information if they are found.

FBI agents are examining records at many of the nation's leading flight schools, even if they have no clear connection to the hijackers. Investigators have also taken about 12,000 photographs at the crash scenes in search of clues and have seized numerous computers and vehicles.

In addition to pursuing evidence in Germany, investigators are working with Mexican officials to chase several individuals who may have fled to that country. Mexican officials announced earlier this week that it had received the names of nine suspects from the United States. But they said other nations had also received the list and said the suspects could also be in those countries.

Living in the open

The details on the 19 hijackers portray a group whose best weapon may have been the freedom and anonymity that American life offered.

Suspected hijacker Mohamed Atta was on a U.S. government watch list of suspected terrorists and, German authorities say, was under surveillance in Hamburg, where he and at least two other suspects attended the technical university.

But Atta, who sources say has been identified as a member of the Egyptian Jihad group, had no trouble entering and leaving the U.S., and he made no attempt to conceal his identity while living in South Florida.

Atta's case was not unusual.

Although the FBI says several of the hijackers may have borrowed the names of legitimate Saudi Arabian airline pilots, most of the 19 appear to have lived openly in Florida and California.

The first elements of their plot, public records suggest, may have begun as early as the fall of 1993, when a handsome, polite young man named Waleed Al Shehri, cited by the FBI as one of the hijackers, arrived in Daytona Beach, Fla., to learn how to fly.

Just 18, Al Shehri enrolled in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and began coursework to become a commercial pilot capable of flying small twin-engine planes. He lived in the nearby Anatole apartments and graduated four years later with a degree in aeronautical science.

For about six months in 1999, he established a new address with several other Arabic-speaking men in the Washington suburb of Vienna, Va., according to the house's owner.

He abruptly left for Saudi Arabia in October 1999, telling neighbors that he was returning with his father, whom he claimed was a businessman and diplomat. Al Shehri, the FBI now says, was one of two rogue pilots who helped fly an American Airlines Boeing 767 into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday.

Al Shehri's story appears to have been repeated in one form or another by four other of the eight pilots who became hijackers, and another suspected accomplice.

The FBI says that Saeed Alghamdi was aboard United Airlines Flight 93, the Boeing 757 that crashed in a western Pennsylvania field. Alghamdi listed his address as the apartments located on the complex of Flight Safety International's Vero Beach, Fla., facility.

Other students remember the hijackers during their training at Flight Safety. Alexander Burik said they arrived in June and he started in November 2000. He had an apartment near a room where the Saudi pilots had established a small mosque. Prayers were said five times a day.

"It seemed like a very spiritual group," Burik said. "I quite vividly remember them being there and training with them."

Brush with the law

Atta, an Egyptian national who made South Florida his proving ground, was hardly hiding out. Beginning in July 2000, he lived in an apartment in Venice, Fla., and later moved to Coral Springs, a suburb of Ft. Lauderdale, under his own name. He held a state driver's license and drove a red 1986 Pontiac Grand Prix.

Late one night last April, he was ticketed in Broward County for driving without a license. He failed to appear for his May 28 court date, but there were no repercussions. No one, it seems, realized that Atta had a history.

A few people, however, realized that Atta had an attitude. At two Florida flight schools, he and his close companion--Al-Shehhi, who later would be on the second plane that flew into the trade center--made waves.

"One, they couldn't speak English and two, they had bad attitudes. They wouldn't listen to what the instructors had to instruct," said Gary Jones, vice president of the Sarasota, Fla., flight school that bears his name.

Atta and Al-Shehhi completed about 20 hours of flying time each at Jones in small Cessna 172s and Piper Warrior single-engine planes. Once dismissed, they moved down the coast to Huffman Aviation International in Venice, Fla., where each flew 250 more hours and ended up earning commercial pilot's licenses in just a few months. They paid $18,700 for the privilege but didn't hold steady jobs.

"I talked to Atta a few times," said Rudi Dekkers, the flight school's owner. "There was not too much contact with these two. . . . They didn't joke around with the boys or go out for a beer or anything like that."

A last journey

Sometime before the attack, Atta, perhaps accompanied by Al-Shehhi, made his way up the Eastern Seaboard. After Tuesday's attack, police found Atta's Grand Prix in the parking lot of Boston's Logan International Airport.

But that's not where Atta boarded his first flight Sept. 11. The day before, he rented a Nissan Altima at Logan and drove north, to Maine. In Maine, investigators believe that Atta and Al-Shehhi met up with other hijackers who came into the United States from across the Canadian border.

Canadian authorities are working with the FBI to examine passenger manifests of the ferry that runs between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland, Maine.

They believe some of the hijackers made their way into the U.S. on the ferry, just a day or two before the attack.

The morning of the assaults, Portland airport security cameras clearly captured Atta and Al-Shehhi passing through the security check, police said. Each carried a shoulder bag. They boarded a 6 a.m. U.S. Airways flight to Boston, and would not have to pass through security again.

After the attacks, police found Atta's red Grand Prix in the parking lot of Logan Airport and the rented Altima in Portland. They also found Atta's bag, which was checked in Portland but didn't make it onto the suicide flight. The bag contained a suicide note and a videotape on how to fly the Boeing 767.

Tribune staff reporters Jeff Zeleny and Mike Dorning in Washington; Eric Ferkenhoff and Ray Gibson in Chicago; Cam Simpson in New York; V. Dion Haynes, Vincent J. Schololski and Karen Brandon in Los Angeles; and Monica Davey in Hollywood, Fla., contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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