- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

The FBI is on a "heightened state of alert" to guard against future terrorist attacks as it expanded its global search yesterday for participants in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III released photographs of the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks publicly confirming for the first time that "one or more" of them had ties to terrorist organizations controlled by Osama bin Laden.

"I think it's fair to say we're under a heightened state of alert, and without any specificity as to a particular target, a particular place, or a particular time," Mr. Mueller said during a briefing at FBI headquarters. "I will tell you that our primary focus, in addition to bringing to justice those responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11, is on preventing potential future attacks."

Mr. Mueller said the FBI identified the men from passenger lists, passports, driver's licenses and other identification documents. He added the FBI was "fairly certain" the men had been properly identified, but it still was investigating whether any of them were using false identification.

Both men asked for the public's help in positively identifying all 19, saying they hoped the photographs would prompt Americans who might have seen the hijackers or have information about them to contact the FBI at 1-866/483-5137 or www.ifccfbi.gov.

It is "another step in what in effect is part of a national 'Neighborhood Watch,'" said Mr. Ashcroft.

Mr. Mueller also said that 18 Middle Eastern men arrested in seven states for obtaining fraudulent licenses to haul hazardous materials are not believed to be tied to the attacks. The FBI was continuing to investigate others who obtained similar licenses under suspicious circumstances.

In what had been a nationwide scare, the director said the men appeared to be part of a scheme by a Pennsylvania state examiner accused of taking payoffs for the permits. None took the required tests and some had suspended licenses. Two others still were being sought.

Meanwhile, FBI agents intensified their focus yesterday on an Alexandria security guard as a potential key in the bureau's hunt for accomplices. Mohamed Abdi was being held without bail after his name and phone number were found in a car belonging to one of the hijackers who crashed into the Pentagon.

Federal authorities, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the FBI had broadened its inquiry of Mr. Abdi to determine whether he had ties to the bin Laden-funded al Qaeda terrorist organization, whether he knew any of the terrorists in the attacks or whether he had ever met with others involved in earlier incidents.

During a court hearing this week, federal prosecutors said Mr. Abdi was an important witness and there "may be more" in the FBI's ongoing probe, but offered no specific evidence linking him to the hijackers. The 44-year-old former airline food service worker's name and phone number were found in the car of Nawaf Alhamzi, a Saudi national identified as one of the five men who commandeered the American Airlines jet that hit the Pentagon.

FBI agents located Alhamzi's 1988 Toyota at Washington Dulles International Airport the day after the attacks, finding a D.C. road map with the name "Mohumed" written on it and the phone number of an apartment rented by Mr. Abdi. The authorities said Mr. Abdi has been unable to explain to agents how his name and number turned up on the map, and has offered conflicting explanations.

Mr. Abdi, who was taken into custody on unrelated forgery charges, had with him at the time of his arrest a newspaper article about Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian convicted in April of smuggling explosives from Canada into Washington state as part of a conspiracy to bomb Los Angeles International Airport during year 2000 celebrations. Ressam spent seven months in a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and was believed to have ties to bin Laden and al Qaeda.

U.S. Magistrate Welton Curtis Sewell ordered Mr. Abdi held without bail during a court appearance Wednesday in Virginia, saying the circumstances of the accusations were "so extreme and so unusual … if this court released this defendant there would be a risk of flight." He is being held at a secret location, where he continues to be questioned by the FBI.

During his court appearance, Mr. Abdi was described as a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, but Judge Sewell said the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service had not yet found any records of his citizenship status.

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