- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

An army of 4,000 FBI agents raided hotels and stopped trains and buses along the East Coast yesterday in a desperate search for a gang of Middle Eastern terrorists before they flee the country after the devastating sneak attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
FBI agents targeted several family members and supporters in the Boston area of international fugitive Osama bin Laden, the Saudi millionaire tied to several attacks against U.S. targets over the past decade, trying to determine if any supplied logistical support for the attacks — including weapons.
The FBI also wants to know if credit cards belonging to family members or supporters were used to purchase airline tickets for the ill-fated flights, two of which departed from Boston's Logan International Airport.
Boston's proximity to the Canadian border and the city's size, in which people can hide, have made it a likely center for would-be terrorists, authorities said. Federal agents strangled to a trickle border crossings into Canada yesterday.
Multiple terrorist cells are believed to be involved in the attacks, said authorities. They have identified more than a dozen of the suspected hijackers, who have ties to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. None has been arrested.
Several people have been taken into custody in raids from Massachusetts to Florida. Federal authorities, who believe as many as 50 may have been involved in Tuesday's deadly attack, said most were being held on questions concerning their immigration status.
FBI agents in Boston ordered the evacuation of the 36-story Westin Hotel, removing one unidentified man from the building to an awaiting van. FBI agents, along with Boston police, entered the hotel in full riot gear, all armed with automatic weapons.
They also conducted a massive search of the Park Inn Hotel in Newton, Mass., a Boston suburb, although no one was detained, and impounded a car at Logan International Airport containing suspicious material — including what officials said were Arabic-language flight-training manuals.
As the search widened throughout the East Coast yesterday, Amtrak train No. 173 bound for Washington from Boston was stopped in Providence, R.I., and all of its passengers were ordered off.
FBI agents boarded the train, along with Providence police, and later led a bearded man with a green turban in handcuffs to an awaiting police car. Police said he was carrying a knife, although they doubted he was part of the terrorist conspiracy.
In Portland, Maine, agents seized a rental car used by two of the suspected hijackers who flew to Boston to commandeer one of the fatal flights.
Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood described the two suspected hijackers as being in their late 20s with black hair and olive complexions. Citing airport surveillance tapes, he said the unidentified men boarded a 6:45 a.m. U.S. Airways flight Tuesday 10 minutes before it departed for Boston. He said one of the men checked a bag for the flight, although it was not put on board because of his late arrival. The bag contained a flight manual written in Arabic, authorities said.
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said yesterday 4,000 agents, along with 3,000 support personnel and 400 FBI lab specialists, have set out to identify the hijackers on each of the planes, any of their associates who remain in the United States, and seek to "gather any and all evidence we have as to who assisted the hijackers, not only in this country, but also overseas."
"The men and women of the FBI join the nation in expressing our deep sympathies for the victims of these horrific tragedies and their families," he said. "All of us in the FBI pledge to those directly affected by these attacks that we will leave no stone unturned in our quest to help find those responsible and to bring those individuals to justice."
He said the FBI has identified many of the hijackers on each of the four flights — mostly based on conversations passengers had with their families — and has identified through a number of leads several individuals who authorities believe assisted in the hijackings.
In Florida, FBI agents searched several homes and businesses, including an aviation school where at least two of the hijackers are believed to have received flight training. The suspects were Mohamed Atta, 33, and Marwan Alshehhi, the Associated Press reported.
The warrants were served in Davie and Coral Springs, both near Fort Lauderdale, and Vero Beach, on the east coast, and in Hollywood and Sarasota County on the state's west coast.
Charles Voss, an employee of Huffman Aviation Inc. in Venice, Fla., said FBI agents questioned him after tracing a car registered to one of the suspected hijackers. That car was found at Logan Airport in Boston. He said he told the agents the man had trained at Huffman for five months beginning in July 2000.
Records with the Florida Division of Motor Vehicles, obtained by the Associated Press, show that one vehicle pursued by the FBI — a 1989 red Pontiac — was registered to Mr. Atta, who previously had a driver's license in Egypt.
In Vero Beach, FBI agents questioned Paul Steineling, who rented a house to Adnan Bukhari, a man who said he was a commercial pilot from Saudi Arabia. Mr. Bukhari, who lived with his wife and three children, attended a local flight school. The family moved out over the weekend.
Another suspect, Saudi flight engineer Amer Kamfar, 41, also abruptly moved his family out of a Vero Beach rental home last weekend.
"They threw out everything they had — clothes, dishes," a neighbor told the Associated Press.
The FBI also took into custody for questioning a person who rented another Vero Beach house. He is believed to be an acquaintance of a suspected hijacker also enrolled in the flight school. In Coral Springs, the FBI searched a home where one of the suspects may have lived.
Search warrants also were executed in New Jersey, with sealed warrants outstanding in several other states, authorities said.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, who joined Mr. Mueller for the news conference yesterday, said the four planes were each hijacked by between three and six persons, who used knives, box-cutters and bomb threats. He confirmed that several of the hijackers were trained as pilots in the United States.
Mr. Ashcroft said the FBI and other authorities have received "numerous credible leads," and that command posts had been established at all the crime scenes. He said investigators are obtaining the passenger manifests, rental car receipts, telephone logs, videotape from parking garages, and pay telephone videotape records at all scenes for review and "appropriate follow-up interviews."


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