FBI Gets 700 Leads But No Arrests So Far


Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP)--The FBI has received 700 leads in the investigation of Tuesday's twin terrorist attacks but so far no arrests have been made, a Justice Department official said.

Based on information gathered from frantic phone calls made by passengers on doomed jets just minutes before they crashed, the government believes that the hijackers were trained pilots and that three to five hijackers were aboard each of four airliners that crashed Tuesday in the worst terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil, said Mindy Tucker, Justice Department spokeswoman.

"It appears from what we know that the hijackers were skilled pilots," said Tucker.

Tucker declined to comment on evidence linking the attacks to Saudi exile Osama bin Laden or whether authorities have executed search warrants.

Lawmakers believe bin Laden may have been behind the attacks. "I don't think everyone in Congress has enough information to make those assumptions," said Tucker.

She said investigators are following all credible leads, but declined to comment on whether the government is close to arresting anyone.

The Justice Department's terrorism, violent crimes, office of intelligence and violent crime divisions are involved in the investigation, she said. Attorney General John Ashcroft briefed 225 members of Congress late Tuesday and will meet with lawmakers again Wednesday with FBI Director Robert Mueller and FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh.

Ashcroft met with national security officials at the White House early Wednesday.

From broken bits of hijacked airplanes to intelligence intercepts, the FBI is collecting evidence in its search for those responsible for Tuesday's twin terrorist attacks.

At the Pentagon and World Trade Center, agents sifted through the rubble.

"The FBI evidence recovery team has found parts of the fuselage outside" the Pentagon, Fairfax County chief Michael Tamillow said Wednesday. "As we go in we're now identifying smaller parts of the plane. Everyone is looking for the black box recorders." Those recorders could contain conversations from the cockpits of the doomed planes.

"Everything is pointing in the direction of Osama bin Laden," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A flight manifest from one of the ill-fated flights included the name of a suspected bin Laden supporter, Hatch and several law enforcement officials confirmed. And U.S. intelligence intercepted communications between bin Laden supporters discussing Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, Hatch told The Associated Press.

"They have an intercept of some information that included people associated with bin Laden who acknowledged a couple of targets were hit," he said. Hatch declined to be more specific.

Officials cautioned it was too early to definitively assign blame but said early evidence was pointing toward bin Laden.

Ruling Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, where bin Laden is believed to be hiding, said they doubted the wealthy Arab could have been behind the attacks. Bin Laden previously has been tied to terrorist attacks against Americans overseas.

Whatever the case, each detail gathered in the hours immediately after the breathtaking devastation in New York and Washington pointed toward a carefully planned plot executed by knife-wielding hijackers to ensure the maximum casualties at two of Americas most famous landmarks.

Law enforcement officials told the AP that early evidence suggested the attackers may have studied how to operate large aircraft and targeted transcontinental flights with large fuel supplies to ensure spectacular explosions -and maximum destruction.

Thousands were believed dead in New York and Washington.

"These heinous acts of violence are an assault on the security of our nation," Ashcroft declared as thousands of federal investigators fanned out across the country pursuing leads.

"We will expend every effort and devote all the necessary resources to bring the people responsible for these acts, these crimes, to justice," he said.

Farewell phone calls from passengers and at least one flight attendant on the four targeted flights described a similar pattern: hijackers working in groups of three to five, wielding knives, in some cases stabbing flight crews as they took control of the cockpit and forced the planes toward their intended targets.

The FBI was seeking search warrants in Broward County in southern Florida and Daytona Beach in central Florida. A car was towed by authorities at one of those locations.

Other leads were being pursued. Authorities examined a van seized in New York for possible clues, while a car found at the Boston airport where one of the planes was hijacked reportedly contained an Arabic language flight manual.

The FBI interviewed a Venice, Fla., couple Wednesday about two men who stayed at their house for a week in July 2000 while the men were taking small-plane flight training at Venice Municipal Airport.

FBI agents "informed me that there were two individuals that were students at Huffman Aviation, my employer, and FBI told me they were involved in yesterday's tragedy," said Charlie Voss, who was interviewed with his wife, Drew Voss, at their home.

The couple accepted the two men as house guests as a favor to the company, Voss said. The men, who stayed just a few days, trained at the airport and came to the house to sleep, he said.

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