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U.S.: Officials Concentrate Efforts On Unraveling Terror Network

  • Jeremy Bransten

Two days after being hit by what could be the deadliest terrorist attack in history, the United States continues to search for survivors as the nation mourns. But government, military and law enforcement agencies are concentrating their efforts on unraveling the mystery of who was behind the operation -- to allow President George W. Bush to carry out his promised response.

Prague, 13 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Bit by bit, clues are being collected which law enforcement officials hope will allow them to identify the terrorists who organized and carried out the mass attacks against the United States.

FBI officials say they believe that between 12 and 24 individuals could have been involved in the hijacking of the four passenger airplanes used in the attacks. The FBI says as many as 50 others may have helped execute the plans. Primary attention has now focused on Florida as well as the Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. metropolitan areas. FBI Director Robert Mueller updated the media on the progress of the investigation at a news conference in Washington yesterday:

"We also have identified, through a number of leads, principally at the cities of origin [of the flights], a number of individuals whom we believe may have had something to do with the hijackings, and we are pursuing those leads aggressively."

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said yesterday that flight schools in more than one state were involved in the training of the hijackers, several of whom had pilot's licenses.

MSNBC television reports today that at least three suspects in the attacks underwent flight training in Florida. The network quotes law enforcement sources as saying that one of the trails U.S. agents are following is that of Ali Muhammed Darmaki. Darmaki reportedly attended Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, but never completed his training because of bad grades. The other two suspects who took flying lessons in Florida were identified as Mohammed Atta and Marwan Shehhi. All were on the suicide flights involved in the attacks.

The investigation has also rapidly broadened abroad. In Germany overnight and today, police in Hamburg raided eight apartments in which at least two of the suspects may have lived temporarily before coming to Florida. Hamburg police chief Gerhard Mueller said one possible accomplice has been detained, but declined to give details.

American investigators have also reportedly asked France for information about a 31-year-old Franco-Algerian man whom they detained last month. The man had been taking flight lessons and, according to security officials quoted by France's Europe 1 radio, French intelligence linked him weeks ago to Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Laying the groundwork for a possible coordinated, international response if an overseas link to the perpetrators is firmly established, NATO's 19 member states last night -- for the first time in the alliance's 52-year history -- invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, NATO's 1949 founding document. Under that article, an attack on one member state is to be treated as an attack on all.

The United States has also begun sounding out other leaders with the aim of forming a broader-based coalition. President Bush yesterday spoke on the telephone with Chinese President Jiang Zemin and twice with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, says he has been in constant contact with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

The United States has asked Pakistan for its cooperation, should links be drawn to neighboring Afghanistan, where Bin Laden is being sheltered by the Taliban. Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, speaking today in Islamabad, pledged his country's full support:

"Pakistan has been extending cooperation to international efforts to combat terrorism in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Countries must join hands in this common cause. I wish to assure President Bush once again, and the United States government, of an unstinted cooperation in the fight against terrorism."

In the Philippines, Foreign Secretary Teofisto Guingona said today that the United States is making plans to use the country as a transit point as it contemplates evacuating its citizens from certain countries. Guingona said the U.S. embassy has made a "verbal request" to Manila to allow U.S. planes to land at Philippine airports in the evacuation of U.S. nationals from Asia or the Middle East, en route to the U.S. mainland.

The United States remains in a state of heightened alert. U.S. federal aviation officials say they will allow air travel in the United States to resume today, but cautioned travelers to expect slower operations and tight security. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said commercial and private planes will be allowed to fly effective 11:00 New York time. Mineta said there will be some inconveniences, but safety will be a priority.

The Federal Aviation Administration's new security measures at airports call for prohibiting knives of any size onboard planes; ending curbside check-ins; and eliminating cargo and mail from passenger jets. They also ordered greater scrutiny of planes between flights and of unattended vehicles near terminals.

U.S. stock markets are not expected to reopen before tomorrow or, at the latest, on 17 September.

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