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Nervous nation awaits answers

By DAVID BALLINGRUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2001


A nation on edge faced the prospect of a long, dangerous war Thursday even as it began to comprehend the staggering dimensions of an unprecedented terrorist attack.

A nation on edge faced the prospect of a long, dangerous war Thursday even as it began to comprehend the staggering dimensions of an unprecedented terrorist attack.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced that the number of people known dead and reported missing in his city has nearly reached 5,000 and is heading up.

He said the city has 30,000 body bags available to hold the bodies and pieces of bodies being removed from the wreckage brought by Tuesday's terrorist attack. But will it be enough?

"It could turn out we recover fewer than that; it could be more," Giuliani said. "We don't know the answer."

President George W. Bush, his eyes brimming with tears and his voice trembling, vowed to "lead the world to victory" in what he termed "the first war of the 21st century."

In related developments Thursday:

Bush is considering calling up thousands of members of the National Guard and Reserve to active duty in the next few days in what defense officials said likely would mark the start of a much larger military mobilization.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said investigators have determined there were at least 18 hijackers involved in the attacks. They count five on each of the planes that hit the World Trade Center, four on the American Airlines plane that struck the Pentagon and four on the United Airlines plane that crashed southeast of Pittsburgh. All were ticketed passengers, Ashcroft said. He said a "significant" number of associates also provided help.

Congress agreed to double Bush's $20-billion request for emergency spending to assist the victims of terrorist attacks and to finance the hunt for those responsible. However, the president's request for broad authority to wage war on world terrorism encountered some resistance. Congress could formally approve the $40-billion spending measure by the end of the week, but the wording of a resolution granting the president war powers might take longer.

The United States is pressuring Pakistan to close borders with Afghanistan and allow overflights of U.S. aircraft in the event of airstrikes, and Pakistan has signaled some willingness to cooperate.

The nation took a few halting steps toward normalcy Thursday.

Some airports opened, though flights were few. The bond markets also reopened.

But on only the second full day since terrorists leveled the World Trade Center and crushed a side of the Pentagon, the United States remained a nervous nation.

The U.S. Capitol was evacuated Thursday evening, and Vice President Dick Cheney was moved earlier in the day to Camp David in what his spokeswoman called a precautionary measure. "This is not business as usual anymore," said press secretary Juleanna Glover.

Military vehicles patrolled Washington's streets, and fighter jets ripped across deserted skies.

The National Football League, Major League Baseball and many college teams announced they would play no games this weekend. The stock exchanges announced they would not resume trading until Monday.

In Washington, members of Congress evacuated the Capitol after a bomb threat was phoned in. A police spokesman said bomb-sniffing dogs "hit on an area that was of concern."

Airports in the New York City area were closed Thursday afternoon, hours after air carriers were allowed to return to the sky for the first time since Tuesday's attacks in New York and Washington.

Police said a man carrying a false pilot's identification was arrested at Kennedy after trying to get past security.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, said the man "apparently had a security pass to be on the tarmac."

Young said the suspect was wearing a pilot's uniform that apparently was one of several uniforms stolen from an airline. He said he was very concerned that a suspicious person had succeeded in getting the false identification.

"I'm convinced the potential problem is still there," he said.

There were even worries that New York's famous skyline would suffer further damage.

The American Express Building, damaged by the Trade Center's collapse, was reportedly weakened. Nearby, the top 10 floors of the 53-story One Liberty Plaza began buckling and forced the evacuation of some rescue workers.

The investigation . . .

As the nation continued to cope with the tragedy, Attorney General Ashcroft said the hijackers received flight training in the United States and "their capacity to operate the aircraft was substantial."

The attacks were "conducted in a technically proficient way," he said. "It is not that easy to land these kinds of aircraft at very specific locations with accuracy or to direct them with the kind of accuracy which was deadly in this case."

One Justice Department official said there were "probably more than 30 associates" operating in groups within several cities. Some already may have fled the country.

Crews of five terrorists hijacked flights departing from Boston's Logan International Airport. The flights from Newark International Airport and Dulles International Airport were taken over by gangs of four people, FBI Director Robert Mueller said. Each group was armed with box cutters and knives that had been concealed in shaving kits.

Three of the hijackers are believed to have studied and lived in Hamburg, Germany, before coming to the United States. Two have been identified as citizens of the United Arab Emirates.

More clues may come from the plane wreckage. Rescue workers in Pittsburgh found the flight data recorder from United Airlines flight 93 Thursday afternoon, the FBI reported. The device was then flown to the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, where its recordings will be deciphered. Still missing was the cockpit voice recorder, which may reveal whether some passengers and the crew thwarted the terrorists' mission, believed to be to destroy the White House.

Investigators also located, but had not recovered, a recorder from the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

In Florida, federal agents were investigating on several fronts after searching homes and rental car documents and poring over flight school student records across the state.

They interviewed a Daytona Beach strip club manager who said three men talked of impending bloodshed the night before the attacks.

"They were talking about what a bad place America is. They said, "Wait 'til tomorrow. America is going to see bloodshed,' " said John Kap, manager of the Pink Pony and Red Eyed Jack's Sports Bar. Kap said they made the claims to a bartender and a patron.

On the state's East Coast, agents continued to search for a silver 1996 Plymouth and its possible driver, Amer Kamfar.

In Venice, 60 miles south of the Tampa Bay area, FBI officials on Wednesday took files from the Florida Flight Training Center on a number of Middle Eastern students and at least one north African student, flight instructor Greg Woods said.

Investigators have also examined records at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and Huffman Aviation in Venice.

Woods, who also teaches at Huffman Aviation, said he called authorities early Wednesday because he was concerned about one student in particular whom he instructed several weeks ago. Woods said the student, from Tunisia, didn't appear to enjoy flying and was in a sudden rush to leave about two weeks ago.

On Thursday, at the student's upstairs apartment, across from the flying school, an officer with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement came to the door wearing rubber gloves and declined to answer questions.

One student who lives there, Sindbad Bahri, said agents were asking questions and taking documents.

Bahri, whose father is a pilot with Tunisia Airlines, said that he and his roommates let the officers in and that he was puzzled about what they were looking for and what his rights were.

"If they want to take things, are they allowed?" he asked, standing outside in an alcove as the rain fell Thursday.

The Trade Center attacks, Bahri said, were "crazy." The Koran, he noted, does not advocate violence.

Also early Thursday, Venice police arrested a man from Oman for not having a driver's license. FBI agents questioned him, a jail deputy said. He was transferred to a jail in Sarasota.

There were signs Thursday that some parts of the investigation were moving slowly, however.

Mindy Tucker, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the FBI had requested tapes of air traffic control conversations from the Federal Aviation Administration, but had not yet received them.

It's surprising the FBI has taken so long to get those tapes. In a typical crash investigation, they are reviewed much more quickly.

Tucker also said the devastation at the World Trade Center will delay the FBI from launching its investigation at the site. She said the rubble must be stabilized and rescue and recovery efforts must be completed before the FBI can do a thorough search for evidence.

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