- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 18, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The man suspected of hiding box cutters on two airline flights warned the government in an e-mail of his intention to conceal similar suspicious items on six planes and provided dates and locations for the plan, but was not considered a threat, a senior Bush administration official said yesterday.

Federal authorities “reviewed the correspondence and determined this individual did not pose an imminent threat to national security,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

No charges have been announced. The man’s identity has not been disclosed by the government, and an FBI statement said legal proceedings were expected tomorrow in a federal court in Baltimore.

A congressional official and two senior law enforcement officials, all speaking on condition of anonymity, said the perpetrator was a college student from North Carolina.

A student at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., said he was questioned by the FBI on Friday.

“They were pretty quick. I wasn’t surprised,” Nataniel T. Heatwole, 20, was quoted as telling the Greensboro News and Record, according to a story on the newspaper’s Web site yesterday. Mr. Heatwole, interviewed from his home in Damascus, Md., said he has not been charged with any crime and has no connection to the airline industry.

“I’d love to speak to all of this. I have a ton of stuff I’d like to say, but now is not the time,” he said, according to the report. “I have to work with government before I work with the media.”

A Guilford administrator said in a statement that the FBI on Friday inquired about a student in connection with the investigation.

“We had no reason to suspect that a student was engaged in this reported activity,” said Randy Doss, vice president for enrollment and campus life, whose statement was posted on the college’s Web site.

Plastic bags hidden on two Southwest Airline flights contained box cutters and other suspicious items. The discovery of the bags Thursday on planes in New Orleans and Houston triggered a nationwide inspection of the U.S. commercial air fleet.

By Friday night, after consulting with the FBI, the Transportation Security Administration rescinded the inspection order.

The agency said officials were able to track down the man as a result of a database search that linked the bags to an e-mail the agency received last month.

Government officials have stressed that no terrorism was involved and said the incident appeared intended to demonstrate gaps in aviation security.

The e-mail to the transportation agency indicated that six bags were going to be hidden on planes and it gave dates and locations, according to the administration official.

No other such bags were found in the inspection of the U.S. commercial air fleet. The checking was ordered after maintenance workers found the suspicious bags hidden in lavatory compartments on the Southwest flights.

In addition to the box cutters, the bags each contained notes along with bleach, matches and modeling clay, according to a law enforcement official.

The clay was formed to look like plastic explosives, while the bleach could have been used to demonstrate how a corrosive or dangerous liquid could be smuggled aboard a plane.

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