- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 12, 2004

Federal officials in New York and Virginia are holding a small collection of evidence gathered three years ago from scenes of the worst terrorist attacks ever on U.S. soil, law enforcement authorities said.

Items such as personal effects of the hijackers and chunks from the engines of the airplanes that slammed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon are among the closely held materials.

FBI officials in Washington have refused to comment on the items for “security reasons,” said Ed Cogswell, a spokesman at the bureau’s headquarters. FBI special agent James Margolin, a spokesman for the bureau’s New York City field office, said that “there is a small finite number of things that were recovered that pertained to the hijackers.”

“Those are being maintained as evidence here in the New York office,” he said, adding that evidence collection at the World Trade Center site three years ago came second to efforts to comb through the wreckage for bodies and survivors.

Like the officials in Washington, Mr. Margolin would not comment on specifics.

According to news reports, one personal effect recovered from the wreckage in New York was the passport of Satam M. A. Al Suqami, a Saudi Arabian national believed to have been on American Airlines Flight 11, which slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

One law enforcement official who asked not to be identified said the items are being kept for “evidentiary purposes in the event that they can be used in any future prosecution.”

Unlike the evidence, artifacts collected from the wreckage at the World Trade Center have been shown to the public during exhibitions in various places. However, almost all of the debris — nearly two million tons — was hauled to the Fresh Kills Landfill on the western shore of Staten Island, N.Y.

Meanwhile, military officials have pored over many nonevidentiary items collected from the Pentagon and to be preserved as a historical record of the damage that occurred on September 11.

Mark Wertheimer, the supervising curator at the U.S. Naval Historical Center in Washington, said a historical team from each of the military’s branches was dispatched to the Pentagon on Sept. 28, 2001, to take stock of the wreckage.

Such items as telephones with receivers fused to the base and a military identification card of one of the victims were collected and sorted through. The items went to whichever service branch occupied the office where they were recovered to be stored in historical centers or placed on display.

“Two items that were quite surprising to find in the crash area were two televisions still mounted to the ceiling of the Navy Command Center,” in the C Ring of the Pentagon, said Mr. Wertheimer.

“To go into the Pentagon and see what had happened there was just stunning,” he said. “It takes your breath away … to touch an official ID card of one of the victims. It really brings it home that there were people that worked there, and they lost their lives.”

Meanwhile, authorities who asked not to be identified said the bulk of the airplanes used in the attacks were incinerated either on or shortly after impact, but some parts were recovered, said one official, who said they are stored in Virginia.

“They do have engine parts … that physically identify them as particular airlines, exterior pieces of the aircraft,” the official said, adding that structural pieces of the World Trade Center towers also are held in Virginia.

Not enough airplane parts were recovered to “make a reconstruction,” said the official, whose comments contrasted with rumors circulated on the Internet since the attacks that authorities working secretly in a warehouse had pieced together large portions of the different airplanes.

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