Nationwide hunt spreads to 3 Florida cities
By DAVID BALLINGRUD
© St. Petersburg Times,
Armed investigators raided a hotel room in Boston, stopped a train in Providence, R.I., and conducted searches in three Florida cities Wednesday, as perhaps the largest investigation in the nation's history came into sharper focus and picked up speed.
Federal agents have identified more than a dozen hijackers of Middle Eastern descent they believe took part in Tuesday's terrorist attacks and have linked them to suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and other terrorist networks.
The massive investigation stretches from the Canadian border, where officials suspect some of the hijackers entered the country, to Florida, where some of the participants are believed to have learned how to fly commercial jetliners (See related story below).
At least a half dozen people in Massachusetts and Florida were detained on unrelated local warrants and immigration charges and questioned about possible ties to the hijackers. No charges related to the attacks had been filed.
President Bush, meanwhile, studied difficult options and tried to rally world support.
Officials said lawmakers and the administration were working on legislation to authorize the use of force under the War Powers Act. It was not clear how quickly it would be brought to Congress for a vote, but both Democrats and Republicans expressed support. Bush discussed the proposal with lawmakers at the White House.
The president reportedly wants to take action quickly, but what will he hit, how, and where?
Public support for revenge is high, opinion polls show. But military options are complicated by the difficulty of targeting nomadic terrorists in difficult terrain.
"Nobody should underestimate the difficulty of going after and finding a specific individual," said Robert Gates, a former director of the CIA. "It's a highly complicated intelligence challenge."
"Cruise missiles are not rifles," agreed former national security adviser Sandy Berger.
Amid a flurry of telephone calls to Europeans, Israelis and Arabs on Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell placed a special focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan was targeted for harboring suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, and Pakistan for its proximity to the Saudi expatriate's operations and for the country's record of support for the Taleban, which controls most of Afghanistan.
"I am sure that the Taleban leadership is providing protection and opportunities and facilities for Osama bin Laden," Powell said.
Powell appeared to lean a bit on Pakistan, a nation the State Department has accused of hosting religious schools that serve as recruiting grounds for terrorists.
"As we gather information and as we look at possible sources of the attack, it would be useful to point out to the Pakistani leadership at every level that we are looking for and expecting their fullest cooperation and their help and support," he said.
Some 4,000 special agents and 3,000 support personnel are working on the case. About 400 FBI laboratory specialists are at the crime scenes in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Officials said that a breakthrough in the investigation came when a witness alerted authorities to a rented car that was parked at the Boston airport. The vehicle yielded documents, such as an Arabic language flight manual, and other documents that contained the name on the passenger list of one of the doomed flights. From there, officials said, investigators found other names of other people suspected in the attack.
Officials also said that a group of about five men suspected of assisting the hijackers were under investigation in Union City, N.J..
Each of the four hijacking teams had a leader but worked independently, the officials said, although the teams appeared to be aware that their actions were being closely coordinated with the other groups.
Each of the teams was aided by confederates on the ground in Newark, Boston and Virginia who were responsible for logistical support, including providing money, rental cars, credit cards and lodging, law enforcement officials said on Wednesday.
Moreover, they said that the teams were coordinated by an overall commander who has not been identified, but who apparently helped select the flight and targets and choreographed the aerial attacks to occur at roughly the same time. The whereabouts of the commander remains unknown.
The officials said they reached these conclusions after piecing together information on the doomed flights' passenger lists, pay telephone records, reports of panicky phone calls from people aboard the hijacked flights and evidence taken from a rental car found at the Boston airport that they said was used by one of the hijack teams.
Officials said authorities were gathering evidence that the terrorist cells may have had prior involvement in earlier plots against the United States. Those incidents include the USS Cole bombing in Yemen and the foiled attack on U.S. soil during the millennium celebrations.
"This could have been the result of several terrorist kingpins working together. We're investigating that possibility," a law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press.
In Boston, guests were ordered to evacuate the 36-story Westin Hotel in the Back Bay section, said a guest leaving the hotel who declined to give his name.
"SWAT teams were all around holding machine guns," said R.J. Ryan, who was among hundreds of onlookers. "They put somebody in the van. Then they started moving everybody."
In Washington, FBI head Robert Mueller said no arrests had been made in the case. Five people were detained because of their immigration status, but Justice Department officials would not say where they were taken into custody.
The Boston Globe reported on its Web site Wednesday that three people were taken into custody at the hotel. The Globe said the three were linked to a credit card used to buy tickets on the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center. They were later released.
In Providence, authorities stopped an Amtrak train that had come from Boston, ordered off passengers and went on board. One man wearing a green turban was led away in handcuffs.
Police said later that the man did not appear to have any connection with the terrorist acts. He was charged with a weapons violation for carrying a knife.
-- Times staff writer Bill Adair contributed to this report, which includes information from Times wires.
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