The hunt for overseas connections to the World Trade Center bombing intensified Tuesday as federal investigators said that they have identified a man in Germany as the source of a cash payment to a New Jersey man charged in the case.
The man wired funds from Duesseldorf to the Jersey City, N.J., bank account of Mohammed A. Salameh nine days before the bombing, authorities said. Investigators would not identify the man by name but said that he is apparently of Middle Eastern origin and did not seem to be a relative of Salameh’s or other suspects in the case.
The wire transaction from Duesseldorf was one of several money transfers, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, that Salameh and another suspect, Nidal Ayyad, received in their bank accounts, according to federal investigators.
“Everything that’s in those accounts is of evidentiary value and potentially important to us,” Jim Esposito, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark field office, told The Times.
Nevertheless, Esposito and several other federal officials warned that it is much too early to draw any firm conclusions about whether the World Trade Center bombing was financed from abroad.
“At this time . . . there’s no reason to prove (the bombing) is attached to a state sponsor,” a senior U.S. specialist on terrorism told reporters in Washington Tuesday. “There’s no evidence yet to draw any conclusions. . . . There are theories and motives out there, but none so compelling that it’s out in front.”
As U.S. investigators pursued the trail of money overseas, federal prosecutors were preparing to file new indictments today against the three suspects they are holding in the case: Salameh, Ayyad and Ibrahim A. Elgabrowny, who has been charged with obstruction of justice for resisting FBI agents during a search. The new charges would help buttress the authorities’ justification for continuing to detain the three men.
Lawyers and associates of Salameh and Ayyad, who held bank accounts together, continue to insist that any payments they received from abroad were of an innocent nature.
A source close to Salameh told The Times Tuesday that the money was sent to him by a cousin in Germany for repair of Salameh’s Chevrolet, which was damaged in an accident in New Jersey Jan. 24.
This source said that Salameh had requested money from his relatives in Arab countries, including Jordan, where his mother lives. But he said that some of the money came from or through Germany. The source maintained that Salameh and Ayyad had joint bank accounts because they wanted to “start a business together,” although he would provide no details about the business.
Federal investigators said that German officials have been cooperating with the federal investigation. “We can’t conduct an investigation on their soil,” said one senior law enforcement official. “We have to ask their counterparts, and it is progressing to my satisfaction.”
This senior official said that he was not yet certain whether the ultimate source of the money that went into the New Jersey bank accounts was from Germany or whether Germany was merely a transit point.
All three suspects have ties to El Sayyid A. Nosair, who is serving a prison sentence in Attica, N.Y., for weapons violations stemming from the 1990 murder of right-wing Jewish leader Meir Kahane.
Court records indicate that Nosair has a pending lawsuit against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the World Trade Center. In 1986, while Nosair was working as an electrician, he was seriously injured in an accident at an electrical station run by the Port Authority, and he later filed a negligence suit, which has not been resolved.
Investigators, however, do not consider Nosair’s injury or the lawsuit as related to the bombing, and Nosair has not been charged in connection with the blast.
Times staff writers William C. Rempel and John J. Goldman in New York and Robin Wright and Ronald J. Ostrow in Washington contributed to this story.