Gets 700 Leads But No Arrests So Far
Dow Jones International News
(Copyright (c) 2001, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
WASHINGTON (AP)--The FBIhas received
700 lead in the investigation of Tuesday's twin terrorist attacks but so
far no arrests have been made, a Justice Department official said.
Based on information gathered from frantic
phone calls made by passengers on doomed jets just minutes before they
crashed, the government believes that the hijackers were trained pilots and
that three to five hijackers were aboard each of four airliners that
crashed Tuesday in the worst terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil, said Mindy
Tucker, Justice Department spokeswoman.
"It appears from what we know that the
hijackers were skilled pilots," said Tucker.
Tucker declined to comment on evidence
linking the attacks to Saudi exile Osama bin Laden or whether authorities
have executed search warrants.
Lawmakers believe bin Laden may have been
behind the attacks. "I don't think everyone in Congress has enough
information to make those assumptions," said Tucker.
She said investigators are following all
credible leads, but declined to comment on whether the government is close
to arresting anyone.
The Justice Department's terrorism, violent
crimes, office of intelligence and violent crime divisions are involved in
the investigation, she said. Attorney General John Ashcroft briefed 225 members
of Congress late Tuesday and will meet with lawmakers again Wednesday with
FBIDirector Robert Mueller and FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh.
Ashcroft met with national security officials
at the White House early Wednesday.
From broken bits of hijacked airplanes to
intelligence intercepts, the FBIis collecting evidence in its
search for those responsible for Tuesday's twin terrorist attacks.
At the Pentagon and World Trade Center,
agents sifted through the rubble.
"The FBIevidence recovery team
has found parts of the fuselage outside" the Pentagon, Fairfax County
chief Michael Tamillow said Wednesday. "As we go in we're now
identifying smaller parts of the plane. Everyone is looking for the black
box recorders." Those recorders could contain conversations from the
cockpits of the doomed planes.
"Everything is pointing in the direction
of Osama bin Laden," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the
Senate Judiciary Committee.
A flight manifest from one of the ill-fated
flights included the name of a suspected bin Laden supporter, Hatch and
several law enforcement officials confirmed. And U.S. intelligence
intercepted communications between bin Laden supporters discussing
Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon,
Hatch told The Associated Press.
"They have an intercept of some
information that included people associated with bin Laden who acknowledged
a couple of targets were hit," he said. Hatch declined to be more
Officials cautioned it was too early to definitively
assign blame but said early evidence was pointing toward bin Laden.
Ruling Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, where
bin Laden is believed to be hiding, said they doubted the wealthy Arab
could have been behind the attacks. Bin Laden previously has been tied to
terrorist attacks against Americans overseas.
Whatever the case, each detail gathered in
the hours immediately after the breathtaking devastation in New York and
Washington pointed toward a carefully planned plot executed by
knife-wielding hijackers to ensure the maximum casualties at two of
Americas most famous landmarks.
Law enforcement officials told the AP that
early evidence suggested the attackers may have studied how to operate
large aircraft and targeted transcontinental flights with large fuel
supplies to ensure spectacular explosions -and maximum destruction.
Thousands were believed dead in New York and
"These heinous acts of violence are an
assault on the security of our nation," Ashcroft declared as thousands
of federal investigators fanned out across the country pursuing leads.
"We will expend every effort and devote
all the necessary resources to bring the people responsible for these acts,
these crimes, to justice," he said.
Farewell phone calls from passengers and at
least one flight attendant on the four targeted flights described a similar
pattern: hijackers working in groups of three to five, wielding knives, in
some cases stabbing flight crews as they took control of the cockpit and
forced the planes toward their intended targets.
The FBIwas seeking search warrants in
Broward County in southern Florida and Daytona Beach in central Florida. A
car was towed by authorities at one of those locations.
Other leads were being pursued. Authorities
examined a van seized in New York for possible clues, while a car found at
the Boston airport where one of the planes was hijacked reportedly
contained an Arabic language flight manual.
The FBIinterviewed a
Venice, Fla., couple Wednesday about two men who stayed at their house for
a week in July 2000 while the men were taking small-plane flight training
at Venice Municipal Airport.
FBIagents "informed me that
there were two individuals that were students at Huffman Aviation, my
employer, and FBItold me they were involved in yesterday's
tragedy," said Charlie Voss, who was interviewed with his wife, Drew
Voss, at their home.
The couple accepted the two men as house
guests as a favor to the company, Voss said. The men, who stayed just a few
days, trained at the airport and came to the house to sleep, he said.