FBI Director says identities of some hijackers in question; new arrest in Illinois
WASHINGTON (AP) – FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday the identities of several of the suicide hijackers are in doubt as investigators arrested a man in Illinois wanted for questioning in last week’s terror attacks.
As investigators followed the money trail, a bank in Florida said it found accounts connected to people involved in the attacks.
In Chicago, the FBI arrested a man with the same name as a man with ties to a jailed associate of suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. The FBI said it was trying to determine if the man in custody is the same person.
In Pennsylvania, at the site of the Sept. 11 crash of United Airlines Flight 93, Mueller said the FBI is confident it has ”several hijackers whose identities were those of the names on the manifest. We have several others who are still in question.”
Doubts emerged in the Middle East over the identities of several of the 19 hijackers identified by the FBI last week. Saudi newspapers have reported that some of the men are alive; some were pilots.
A list of the 19 hijackers and two other people wanted in connection the investigation was sent to banking officials Wednesday by the FBI also suggested that one of those identified as a hijacker – Khalid Al-Midhar – may still be alive.
The FBI has told banking regulators that large and small banks around the country found accounts held by several of the 21 individuals identified by the bureau, a banking source said.
SunTrust Banks Inc. is providing the FBI with information about the summer activity on nine checking accounts connected to people involved in last week’s terrorist attack, bank spokesman Barry Koling said Thursday.
Law enforcement officials said a man detained over the weekend in San Diego was flown to New York and being questioned about Al-Midhar and hijacker Nawaq Alhamzi. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified the man as Omer Bakarbashat and said authorities were interested in questioning him about time he may have spent with the two men.
The FBI asked the nation’s water companies to increase security at their facilities. U.S. officials have said they are taking every precaution to ensure terrorists can’t strike again.
Authorities continued to issue warnings and precautions to guard against future attacks.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice Thursday prohibiting until further notice flights in the immediate vicinity of any major professional or collegiate sporting event.
Adrienne Vaughan, spokeswoman for water company BHC Co. in Bridgeport, Conn., said her company received a ”terrorist threat advisory for infrastructures” from the American Water Works Association, an industry group.
A Muslim cleric, Moataz Al-Hallak, had a voluntary, informal three-hour meeting with prosecutors in Washington and denied knowing anything about bin Laden, according to the cleric’s attorney, Stanley Cohen. In 1999, prosecutors alleged Al-Hallak was a contact between members of the terrorist network, but he was never charged.
”My client got tired of disinformation by the FBI,” Cohen said.
In the Illinois case, the FBI said Nabil Al-Marabh, 34, was arrested Wednesday night at a convenience store in Burbank, Ill., near Chicago and was being questioned Thursday. Agents had been looking for him since failing to find him Monday at a Detroit residence where he had lived.
He is among almost 200 people the FBI wants to question, either because they are possible associates of the hijackers or because they are believed to have information about the hijackers or the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Officials would not specify why Al-Marabh was wanted.
Kathleen McChesney, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, said agents believe Al-Marabh is the man wanted on a Massachusetts warrant and are still trying to determine whether he is the same person whose name appears on the FBI’s list.
”We have been working on that since last night, and we still have a lot of work to do,” McChesney said. The FBI previously said Al-Marabh was on the FBI’s list.
She said Al-Marabh is being held on an Immigration and Naturalization Service request and a warrant issued in Boston for assault with a knife.
Al-Marabh was living in suburban Hickory Hills, Ill., not far from the 7-Days Food & Liquor store in Burbank where he had worked for the last several days, officials said.
Walid Beitouni, the store owner, said Al-Marabh had told him he was living with an uncle nearby and had shown him a Canadian driver’s license.
Only minutes before the FBI arrived on the scene with guns drawn to arrest him, Al-Marabh had said that agents might be looking for him, Beitouni said.
State records show Al-Marabh had worked for Boston Cab Co., where an associate of bin Laden once worked. Al-Marabh has ties to the bin Laden associate, Raed Hijazi, a former Boston cab driver who is now jailed in Jordan on charges that he planned to blow up a hotel filled with Americans and Israelis on New Year’s Day 2000.
On his application for a license to drive a cab in Boston, Hijazi listed Al-Marabh as his emergency contact.
Jordanian officials say Hijazi has confessed that he planned terrorist attacks and received bomb-making training in Afghan guerrilla camps run by bin Laden.
In December, Al-Marabh pleaded guilty to assault and battery with a dangerous weapon – a knife – in Boston. He stabbed his roommate in the knee during an argument in May 2000.
He received a suspended sentence of six months but failed to comply with the terms of his probation when he did not show up for a meeting. On March 15, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
At Al-Marabh’s former residence in Detroit on Monday, federal agents found a cache of documents and arrested Karim Koubriti, 23, Ahmed Hannan, 33, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud, 21, on charges of having false immigration papers. The men were identified as resident aliens from Morocco and Algeria.
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