SCMP Saturday, September 29, 2001


FBI releases photos of 19 hijack suspects

AGENCIES

The FBI has released photographs of all 19 suspected hijackers in what US Attorney-General John Ashcroft called "a national neighbourhood watch" campaign that investigators hoped would produce new information about the terror attacks.
At least one of the men in the photos was believed to have connections to prime suspect Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, said FBI director Robert Mueller.
The FBI is still not certain about the identities of all the hijackers and Mr Ashcroft said it hoped that distributing the photographs would add to more than 200,000 leads already being followed.
The release of the photos, which are from passports, driver's licences and other documents related to the hijackers, marked a change for authorities, who until now have kept them under wraps so that potential witnesses and others shown the photos get a fresh look at the men.
Mr Mueller said the FBI believed the names and photographs matched those on the manifests of the four hijacked planes. But questions remain about whether they are the true names of the hijackers. "What we are doing is determining whether, when these individuals came to the United States, these were their real names or whether they changed their names for use with false identification in the US."
He said there was evidence that one or more of the hijackers had had contacts with al-Qaeda, but would not elaborate.
The FBI's new list had slightly different spellings and additional names to a list it released on September 14. At least four of the identities released earlier have been challenged by people with the same or similar names.
Saudi Arabian officials have said a Saudi electrical engineer named Abdulaziz al-Omari had his passport and other papers stolen in 1996 in Denver and reported the theft to police at the time.
The FBI director also said there was some evidence that "one or more" of the hijackers were related.
Language barriers and nuances of Middle Eastern cultures have compounded the problems investigators face in sifting through aliases and fake IDs.
At the briefing, Mr Mueller said the "primary focus is on preventing potential future attacks", while Mr Ashcroft also announced new legislation designed to combat money laundering in support of terrorism.
Authorities have detained about 350 people, including nine whose arrests for obtaining fraudulent driver's licences to carry hazardous materials were announced on Tuesday. But Mr Mueller said none of the nine people arrested appeared to be connected to the al-Qaeda network. The licences sparked fears of possible chemical attacks.
Most of the 350 detained - 125 of whom are in custody for immigration violations - have no known connection to the hijackings. However, a 44-year-old man arrested in Virginia has been linked to the hijackers of United Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. Mohamed Abdi is being held without bail.
In Canada, Toronto police searched four locations, including the former home of Nabil Al-Marabh, a former Boston taxi driver who was arrested in Chicago last week in the investigation.
Al-Marabh, 34, who had lived in Toronto, was arrested on a probation violation and taken to New York on a material witness warrant. He had transferred money to another former cab driver on terrorism charges in Jordan.
In Spain, where six Algerians were arrested on Wednesday, Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy said many of the arrests flowed from co-operation among European Union countries.
He said some of the Algerians had been in contact with one of the first terror suspects detained after the US attacks - Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian arrested on September 13 in Belgium.
French judicial officials say Djamel Begal, a French-Algerian man arrested in Dubai in July, had been key to rounding up suspects and thwarting attacks.
France's top anti-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, travelled last week to the United Arab Emirates to question Begal, whom authorities have now tied to other individuals arrested in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Begal apparently tipped police off about the plots against the US Embassy in Paris. The information led to the arrests of seven people in France last Friday.