FBI chief links hijackers, bin Laden

Mueller acknowledges confusion about identity of some suspects

Photos of 19 men made public

Terrorism Strikes America

Tracking The Suspects

September 28, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department released photographs yesterday of the 19 men believed responsible for the deadly Sept. 11 hijackings, as the head of the FBI for the first time linked at least some of them to the terrorist network controlled by Osama bin Laden.

"We believe that one or more of them do have contacts with al-Qaida," FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said, referring to the terrorist organization that has been linked to previous anti-American attacks.

Mueller would not elaborate. And even as the photos of the mostly young, mostly clean-shaven faces were made public, the FBI director acknowledged that authorities still are uncertain about the true identities of some of the hijackers, all of whom are presumed dead.

In releasing the photo lineup, Mueller and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said they hoped to prompt new tips through a kind of "national neighborhood watch." Federal agents already are pursuing more than 200,000 leads, but they are interested in any additional information about the hijackers and about possible new terrorist threats, Mueller said.

Authorities have raised specific concerns about possible plots that could be carried out on land, with trucks hauling explosives, chemicals or poisons. Yesterday, state police and truck inspectors pulled over for inspection thousands of trucks with hazardous cargo on the nation's highways.

Twenty Middle Eastern men have been charged with obtaining fake hazardous materials permits in a Pennsylvania licensing scam - 18 were arrested yesterday and Wednesday; two were still at large.

Mueller said yesterday that those charges are not related to the Sept. 11 attacks, but he said authorities still are investigating the possibility of a terrorist strike using trucks hauling chemicals or poison gas.

"We are looking at individuals who have obtained hazmat licenses, and particularly those individuals that may have obtained them under suspicious circumstances," Mueller said.

As the sweeping investigation continued to grow - with roughly 125 people now detained on possible immigration violations and more than 250 others who have been taken into custody as material witnesses or for other, unrelated crimes - Mueller defended the FBI against charges that the bureau is too broadly targeting Arab and Muslim Americans.

Mueller said the FBI is investigating about 90 possible hate crimes across the country that could have been ethnically motivated in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Federal grand juries in Seattle and in Salt Lake City handed up indictments Wednesday in two such cases.

In Seattle, a man was charged with trying to bomb a Muslim mosque. In Utah, authorities charged a man with civil rights violations for intimidating a Middle Eastern worker at a Salt Lake City restaurant called "Curry in a Hurry."

"These indictments are proof that those who attempt to take out their anger and frustration on innocent Americans will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Mueller said.

As they investigate the attacks, FBI agents are focusing on various individuals who - perhaps unwittingly - aided the 19 suspected hijackers' deadly plot.

That pattern extended overseas yesterday, as the Salvadoran national police director announced that FBI agents had detained a man suspected of helping at least some of the hijackers obtain false ID cards. The man detained was Luis Martinez-Flores - a name that appeared on a list of 21 names sent to U.S. banks by the FBI. The other names were of the 19 suspected hijackers and one other man.

Also overseas, authorities in London have said 11 of the suspected hijackers might have met in the United Kingdom earlier this year for a possible strategy session about the attacks, The Washington Post reported yesterday.

Justice officials would not comment on those reports.

Mueller said that investigators are working with foreign governments on a variety of fronts, including the effort to determine all of the suspected hijackers' true identities.

"Our investigation has reached out to a number of countries to determine whether ... the photographs we have here, and the names associated with these photographs, are the actual identities of the individuals prior to the time they came to the United States," he said.

At least four of the names have been challenged by people in the Middle East who have the same or similar names, and who were not part of the plot. Officials in Saudi Arabia have said that an engineering student named Abdulaziz Alomari - the same name as one of the suspected hijackers - had his passport stolen while he was studying in Denver in 1996.

Some of the hijackers' names released yesterday have slightly different spellings, compared with the list originally released by the FBI the week of the attacks. Bureau officials said the new information was more complete.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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