Terrorists' plot planned for months: Cops swarm Hub hotel in search for evidence
by Maggie Mulvihill, Cosmo Macero Jr. and Tom Farmer
Thursday, September 13, 2001
The suicide hijackers who launched their bloody attack on America from runways in Boston are Egyptian and Saudi citizens who spent months planning the attack from all corners of the nation, sources said.
A trail of credit card receipts led fast-moving federal investigators to a tony Copley Square hotel, a Chestnut Hill economy motel and a moving train in Rhode Island.
When FBI agents backed up by heavily armed Boston Police SWAT teams and bomb squad members entered the Westin Hotel at midday, they found and detained two men and a woman. The two rooms they were in had been rented with a credit card linked to one of the hijackers, sources said. And hair dye was seized, according to ABC News.
Shortly after, federal agents stopped an Amtrak train from Boston in Providence and removed three passengers, who were later released.
Sources also told the Herald the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service detained an Everett man of Middle Eastern descent yesterday. The unidentified man was in the U.S. illegally and authorities have established he has been traveling frequently between Everett and a location in Canada, sources said. He was being questioned by investigators last night in Boston, the source said.
``We are chasing down hundreds and hundreds of leads,'' said one source involved in the probe yesterday.
Middle Eastern terrorists Mohamed Atta and Waleed Al Sheri hijacked doomed American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston Tuesday, sources confirmed, along with what investigators believe were two other accomplices hellbent on crashing the aircraft into the World Trade Center. Both men had undergone flight training in Florida.
The suicide terrorists left a sloppy trail of evidence that allowed probers to almost immediately identify them Tuesday night - no worry to extremists bound for death, but possibly a critical oversight that nonetheless could lead investigators to a sophisticated Massachusetts-based terror cell linked to Osama bin Laden.
Sources said a Saudi national, Satan Suqami, was identified as a third Flight 11 terrorist.
One informed source said that of at least four or possibly more terrorists believed to be passengers on American Flight 11, two had seats in business class and at least two sat in coach - consistent with a strategy aimed at quickly gaining control of the passengers and crew.
A Visa card traced to the men had been used to purchase seven airline tickets - sources confirmed - two business-class seats for the American Airlines flight and five tickets for its companion in terror, United Flight 175. Sources said that plane, which departed Logan just minutes after Flight 11 on Tuesday morning, had been commandeered by as many as five or more bin Laden extremists.
Two terrorists bearing the surname Al Sheri were also among the hijackers who launched their deadly attack from Boston. There was conflicting information last night about whether the men were brothers, and whether they were part of the United Flight 175 or American Flight 11 hijacking teams.
Meanwhile, CNN reported that two brothers from Saudi Arabia, Adnan Bukhari and Ameer Abbas Bukhari, were also among the terrorists in Boston. The cable network said the two had also traind as pilots in Florida.
Sources identified Arab nationals Marwan al Shehhi and Ahmed al Haznawi as other terrorists involved in Tuesday's devastation, though it was unclear which of the four planes that struck deep into America's heart those men had boarded.
Sources said two unidentified terrorists who checked into the Park Inn in Chestnut Hill may have been there since Sept. 5. Guest Michael Arnold of Nantucket was staying next to the two men and was questioned by federal agents, he said.
Arnold told the Herald the agents told him they had found flight information in the terrorists' room.
A source added investigators were also told a Middle Eastern man was seen studying maps in or near a hotel in Springfield and that lead was being investigated. Sources said investigators are also looking into a link between the Springfield area and planning for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.
Authorities and sources said the Springfield area and south Florida are believed to be the planning and staging areas for Tuesday's attacks.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Head Robert Mueller confirmed some of the hijackers began flight training in Florida as far back as July 2000. They also stated the White House and Air Force One were intended targets.
``We have, in the last 24 hours, taken the manifests and used those as an evidentiary base, and have talked to many of the families of the victims, and have successfully, I believe, identified many of the hijackers on each of the four flights that went down,'' said Mueller.
``We also have identified, through a number of leads, principally at the cities of origin, a number of individuals whom we believe may have had something to do with the hijackings, and we are pursuing those leads aggressively.''
A source told the Herald that a rental car investigators impounded at Logan Airport was based in Springfield, although it was unclear whether it had been rented in the Western Massachusetts city.
But both Ashcroft and officials from the FBI bureau in Boston told U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Springfield) that they were looking into reports that the terrorists who flew out of Logan had spent time in the Springfield area in recent days.
Evidence recovered from luggage abandoned by the terrorists at Logan, and from at least one rental car, provided investigators with a chilling picture of the intense preparations the extremists made for their mission of death.
Two videotapes apparently produced by a British firm appeared to be cockpit-based simulations of commercial jet flights, sources said. One of the tapes provided in-flight instruction for a 757-200 aircraft, and the other a 747-400.
The firm, Intelligent Television and Video, is based in England and specializes in producing civil aviation videos that give pilots and flying buffs a realistic dry run through various flight routes.
It was unclear what specific routes or other information was detailed in the videos. Sources said investigators also recovered from the luggage an instruction booklet for operating flight simulators for both a 757 or 767, as well as a Muslim prayer calendar. A passport and foreign driver's license were also recovered, though it was unclear what suspect they were linked to.
An informed source also said authorities found six plastic bags stuffed with pilot training manuals written in Arabic, airport identification badges and baggage handler uniforms in a rented Mitsubishi. Another source, however, disputed that any uniforms or badges were found.
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, told reporters after an intelligence briefing that authorities had recovered a flight manual in Arabic from a bag that was believed to have belonged to one of the hijackers - confirming an earlier Herald report.
Ashcroft and other federal officials said in the case of each hijacked plane, teams of between three and six individuals used makeshift knives or box cutters, and in some cases made bomb threats.
Federal investigators believe terrorist suspects may have traveled into the United States from Canada by boat just days before they carried out their deadly attack.
Yesterday morning, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, working with U.S. Customs, requested passenger lists from two companies that operate ferries between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and Bar Harbor and Portland, Maine.
Rick Wilson, terminal manager for Bay Ferries in Yarmouth, said he was asked to turn over the names of all passengers who boarded his company's boats between Sept. 1 and yesterday. Bay Ferries operates a high-speed catamaran between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor.
``I'm assuming at this point this was done in conjunction with authorities in the U.S.,'' Wilson said.
Wilson, who turned the records over to a RCMP constable, said the same request was made to Scotia Prince Cruises, which runs ferry service between Yarmouth and Portland. A spokesman for Scotia Prince referred all inquiries to the FBI.
The head of the FBI in Boston, Charles Prouty, would not comment yesterday when asked whether the bureau was in contact with Canadian authorities.
In Maine, authorities confirmed that a rental car used by the terrorists there had been impounded. Canadian officials in Halifax, Nova Scotia also reportedly impounded a rental car that may have been used in the plot.
Maine Gov. Angus King said two hijackers boarded a US Airways plane in Portland bound for Boston Tuesday.
In Florida, Charlie Voss, a former employee at Huffman Aviation in Venice, said FBI agents who interviewed him at his home told him that authorities found a car at Boston's Logan Airport registered to Atta, one of the terrorists aboard Flight 11.
He told agents Atta and al Shehhi had stayed with him while getting flight training in July 2000.
``They informed us individuals who had crossed our path were involved yesterday with the airplane in the tragedy at the World Trade Center,'' Voss said.
In Coral Springs, witnesses said about 50 FBI agents and police officers Tuesday night blanketed the apartment complex that Atta had listed with the motor vehicle division as his last address.
About 90 miles away in Vero Beach, police surrounded a house.
Michael Terrell, who lives next door and rents from the same landlord, said the landlord told him the family who lived there had moved to Vero Beach to attend the Flight Safety Academy. The family had lived there for six to eight months, he said.
In Hollywood, Shuckums restaurant manager Tony Amos said FBI agents showed photos of two men to restaurant employees Tuesday night. The photos had signatures on the bottom, Amos said. He said he identified the photo of a man whose first name was signed Mohamed.
After the cold-blooded attacks, U.S. intelligence officials intercepted cell phone calls made from the Daytona Beach area most likely to bin Laden associates overseas, sources told the Post. The calls reported two targets being hit and a congratulatory message in return, the Post reported.
Jonathan Wells, J.M. Lawrence, Steve Marantz, Tom Mashberg, Franci Richardson, Marie Szaniszlo, Ellen Silberman and Herald wire services contributed to this report.