Attack investigation focuses on Osama bin Laden

Associated Press/September 12, 2001
By John Solomon

Washington -- Suspected hijackers of one jetliner used in Tuesday's devastating attacks may have entered the United States from Canada and could be linked to Osama bin Laden, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

The officials cautioned the information, including raw intelligence, was still developing.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were investigating whether one group of hijackers crossed the Canadian border at a checkpoint and eventually went to Boston's airport, where an American Airlines flight was hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center in New York.

The officials confirmed a car believed to belong to the hijackers was confiscated in Boston and contained an Arabic language flight manual.

Law enforcement officials said a hotel room in the Boston area believed to have been used by one of the hijackers was searched by the FBI Wednesday afternoon but no arrests were made. The officials said the room was vacant but included information linking it a name on the manifest of one of the hijacked flights. They declined to identify the man.

However, a Venice, Fla., man who was interviewed by the FBI said agents told him two men who stayed in his home while training at a local flight school were the hijackers. Charlie Voss said the agents identified the men as Mohamed Atta and one known as Marwan.

The FBI in Miami issued a national bulletin for law enforcement agencies to look out for two cars. Records with the Florida Division of Motor Vehicles show that one of the vehicles the FBI was pursuing - a 1989 red Pontiac - was registered to Atta.

Authorities also were developing intelligence linking the suspected attackers to a band of bin Laden sympathizers in Canada, some of Algerian origin, who are suspected of planning an unsuccessful terrorist attack in the United States during the millennium celebrations.

The officials declined to be more specific.

The FBI has already received more than 700 tips from a special Web site seeking information on the attacks.

Meanwhile, the FBI served search warrants on major Internet service providers in order to get information about an e-mail address that may be connected to Tuesday's terrorist attacks. Among those who received warrants was Earthlink, officials said.

AOL, the nation's largest provider, said it will comply with requests quickly.

The FBI interviewed Voss, the Venice, Fla., about two men who stayed with him and his wife for a week in July 2000 while taking small-plane flight training at the municipal airport.

FBI agents "informed me that there were two individuals that were students at Huffman Aviation, my employer, and FBI told me they were involved in yesterday's tragedy," Voss said.

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.

The government believes the hijackers were trained pilots and that three to five were aboard each of four airliners that crashed in the worst terrorist attack ever in the United States, said Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker. She said the conclusion was based on information gathered from frantic phone calls made by passengers on the doomed jets.

"It appears from what we know that the hijackers were skilled pilots," said Tucker.

Tucker declined to comment on evidence linking the attacks to bin Laden or whether authorities have executed search warrants.

Lawmakers, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, believe bin Laden may have been behind the attacks. "I don't think everyone in Congress has enough information to make those assumptions," Tucker said.

She said investigators are following all credible leads, but declined to comment on whether the government is close to arresting anyone. The 700 tips came from a special FBI Web site seeking information on the attacks.

From broken bits of hijacked airplanes to intelligence intercepts, the FBI is collecting evidence in its search for those responsible for the attacks. At the Pentagon, an FBI team recovered parts of the airplane's fuselage and sought the black box recorder that could provide conversations from the cockpits of the doomed planes.

"Everything is pointing in the direction of Osama bin Laden," said 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 obtained communications between bin Laden supporters discussing Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, Hatch said.

"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 specific.

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