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Hijackers Linked to Library

Times Staff Writer

Seeking to preserve its ability to get records from libraries under the USA Patriot Act, the Justice Department said Thursday that two of the Sept. 11 hijackers apparently used a public computer in a New Jersey state college library to make the reservations for the flights they commandeered.

Kenneth L. Wainstein, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and a former general counsel of the FBI, told a House Judiciary subcommittee that four times in August 2001, individuals using Internet accounts registered to hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar used the library computers to review and order airline tickets on an Internet travel reservations site.

The last documented visit, he said, was Aug. 30, 2001. Records indicate that someone using Alhazmi’s account used the library computer “to review Sept. 11 reservations that had been previously booked.”

He said they did not use the computers to purchase their Sept. 11 tickets.

Alhazmi and Almihdhar were aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which took off from Dulles International Airport outside the nation’s capital and crashed into the Pentagon.

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The disclosure, at a hearing on the Patriot Act, is part of a Justice Department effort to rebut criticism of Section 215 of the law, which gives the government broad access to business and other records in terrorism investigations.

The provision is one of 16 set to expire at the end of the year. Congress is holding hearings to determine which ones should be renewed or amended.

The hijackers’ facility with computers -- including those at libraries -- has been well-known, but Justice Department officials said they had not divulged details of the New Jersey case until Thursday. Wainstein declined to identify the specific library used.

Wainstein also mentioned a previously reported instance in which other members of the plot had used computers at a library in Delray Beach, Fla., to gain access to the Internet in July 2001.

Section 215 has been a focus of concern for library groups. They say the provision gives the government power to pry into the reading habits of ordinary citizens. Some library groups and members want to limit investigators’ ability to obtain those records.


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