U.S. casts anti-terror net

FBI unveils list of 22 most-sought terrorists

War On Terrorism : The Nation

October 11, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The money came from Afghanistan. The plot was likely hatched in Germany. And the 19 young men who carried out the catastrophic suicide attacks acted largely alone inside the United States, leaving behind few co-conspirators.

One month, 655 arrests and nearly 300,000 tips after the deadly hijackings of Sept. 11, that is the rough outline of how investigators increasingly believe the attacks were planned and executed, according to interviews, court records and other public documents.

As they have emerged over the past four weeks, the details of the plan appear to have been as extraordinarily simple as they were deadly. With a few flying lessons, lax airport security and access to public computers and U.S. banks, the hijackers were able to exploit America's openness with relative ease.

Determining who else may have been involved has proved more difficult. More than 600 people have been arrested or detained in the United States; 200 others are wanted for questioning. President Bush unveiled a list of the world's 22 most-wanted terrorists at FBI headquarters yesterday. While top officials have called Saudi militant Osama bin Laden the mastermind, no one has been charged with helping plan or carry out the attacks.

"We're four weeks into the investigation with a long, long way to go," a senior U.S. law enforcement official said yesterday. "We've probably discounted as much information as we've verified."

The largest criminal investigation in U.S. history has been overshadowed this week by the military strikes in Afghanistan, stirring questions of whether the Bush administration's priority in its war on terrorism is military victory or courtroom justice.

A senior investigator acknowledged yesterday that the role of law enforcement is only one piece of the response to last month's attacks, along with diplomatic, financial, intelligence and military efforts.

And Bush said yesterday that the focus must not be solely on the military activity.

"The American people must understand that we're making great progress on other fronts - that we're halting [the terrorists'] money, that we've got allies around the world helping us close the net," Bush said.

Bush emphasized the search for perpetrators overseas as he announced the creation of the most-wanted terrorists list. It is an expansion of the FBI's famous 10 most-wanted list, which is credited with aiding in the capture of 438 of 467 fugitives who have made the list since 1950.

Bin Laden, already one of the 10 most-wanted, also led the terrorist list along with two of his chief advisers, Mohammed Atef and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Both appeared in a videotaped statement by bin Laden widely televised on Sunday. All three are suspected of helping design the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington that left nearly 5,400 people dead or missing.

Although bin Laden has been named by American and British officials as the chief architect of last month's attacks, he was listed yesterday as being sought in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

In addition to 13 men wanted in the African embassy bombings, others were named in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the bombing of the Khobar Towers military barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996, and the hijacking of a TWA flight in 1985 in which a Navy diver on board - Robert Dean Stethem of Waldorf, Md. - was tortured and murdered.

None of the 22 terrorists was named in connection with the events of Sept. 11. However, senior law enforcement officials said several of the men on the list may be linked to last month's attacks, though they declined to say which ones.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who appeared at the FBI event with Bush, said many of the individuals being sought are part of the leadership of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

"They have blood on their hands from Sept. 11, and from other acts against America in Kenya, Tanzania and Yemen," Powell said.

Information released by the British government says that at least three of the 19 suicide hijackers are members of al-Qaida and that at least one of the men played a key role in both the bombing attacks on the embassies in East Africa and the attack last fall on the USS Cole as it refueled in Yemen.

Investigators over the past month have focused most on the reputed leader of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta. The 33-year-old son of a Cairo lawyer, Atta became increasingly devout while a college student in Hamburg, Germany, and that is where investigators believe the hijacking plan might have been formed.

Two of Atta's ex-roommates in Germany - Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Samir Jarrah - also are on the list of suspected hijackers.

German investigators were in Washington yesterday, meeting with U.S. law enforcement authorities. Officials with the Justice Department described the meetings as a normal part of the sweeping inquiry, and would not describe what was being discussed.

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