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Hijackers' e-mails sifted for clues Computer messages were sent uncoded

By Kevin Johnson

WASHINGTON -- Federal authorities believe that some of the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were using computers in all-night Kinko's stores and cybercafes in South Florida to coordinate their activities in the weeks before the assaults.

Investigators have amassed what they described as a ''substantial'' amount of e-mail traffic among the hijackers. Some of the messages were exchanged in a mix of English and Arabic.

None of the communications, authorities said Sunday, involved the use of encryption or other code to disguise the contents of the messages.

At least two laptop computers seized in the United States were being examined closely by investigators. They hope to determine whether the machines contained information that could help identify associates of the hijackers in this country or provide leads about future terrorist attacks, a senior law enforcement official said.

The disclosure appeared to be further evidence that the hijackers felt free to conduct their business in the open without much fear they would be discovered.

Late last month, law enforcement officials said they believed that the hijackers or their associates did extensive scouting missions on various airline routes before settling on flights originating in Boston, Newark, N.J., and Washington.

Investigators said they believe that the hijackers selected the four flights they commandeered Sept. 11 because passenger loads generally were light and the fuel tanks on the jets, all on transcontinental routes, were full.

Official interest in the hijackers' methods of communication comes as the largest criminal investigation in U.S. history continues to widen. The attacks left nearly 6,000 people dead or missing.