- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Authorities have not ruled out the possibility that the sniper who has killed six persons and wounded two others is an international terrorist, but believe the shooter's random targets and the lack of any apparent political, social or religious motive make it unlikely.
"Nobody has ruled out the possibility that the shooter belongs to some international terrorist organization," said a key Justice Department official. "But it does appear, for now, that this person is acting on his own, choosing his victims at random and for no apparent reason.
"There are no clearly defined targets. He's left no calling card or made any demands or claims. The only common denominator appears to be that he wants to kill people," the official said. "A terrorist would be expected to seek a bigger impact, spraying bullets into a crowd to kill more than one person at a time.
"This probably is just some sick [person] looking for attention," the official said.
The sniper's shooting spree began last Wednesday with the killing of a 55-year-old man in Wheaton. His victims have ranged in age from 13 to 72, and there is no evidence any of them knew each other. The only link is the type of bullet the sniper used: high-velocity .223-caliber rounds, fired from a distance.
A task force of state and local police, augmented by agents, analysts, profilers, ballistic experts and computer specialists from the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and U.S. Secret Service, are sifting through sparse forensic evidence and following up on thousands of telephone tips.
The FBI's terrorism task force, created after the September 11 attacks on America, is not yet involved in the sniper investigation, according to an FBI official, but continues to monitor the situation and would be available if called.
"If it gets to the point where they are needed, they will be ready," the source said. "I can tell you, however, they are very concerned, anxious and nervous about these shootings and want to do what they can to see that the perpetrator is brought to justice."
U.S. intelligence agents have said that several international terrorist groups, including the al Qaeda network founded by Osama bin Laden, have trained their members as snipers.
They said Islamic terrorists intended to use the snipers to target Americans, although intelligence officials said yesterday there is no evidence to suggest the shootings in the Washington area are terrorist-related.
"It is a legitimate concern, and no one has overlooked that possibility at this point," said one Prince George's County law enforcement official. "The investigation is continuing and, eventually, everyone's questions and fears will be addressed."
Self-professed September 11 organizer Ramzi Binalshibh told U.S. authorities after his arrest last month that the al Qaeda network had decentralized its leadership structure, making it more dangerous, and that terrorist cells now have more autonomy to conduct attacks around the world.
U.S. intelligence agencies have estimated that as many as 5,000 al Qaeda members may be operating inside the United States.
Before September 11, Binalshibh was involved in planning terrorist operations and helping with the logistics of terrorist attacks, including funding operations, U.S. officials said. He also was reportedly involved in recruiting Islamic radicals to join al Qaeda.
Many Washington-area residents are still shaken over the September 11 attacks, when terrorists crashed a jetliner into the Pentagon. There were added concerns that another plane believed to be hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania had targeted the White House or the Capitol.
Also, several anthrax-laced letters were sent to the area, including a Washington post office and offices on Capitol Hill.


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