ASHINGTON, Sept. 12 — The hijackers who commandeered
commercial jets that attacked the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon were followers of Osama bin Laden, the Islamic militant who
has been blamed for some of the bloodiest attacks against Americans,
federal authorities said today.
The authorities said they had also identified accomplices in
several cities who had helped plan and execute Tuesday's attacks.
Officials said they knew who these people were and important
biographical details about many of them but declined to provide
their names or nationalities.
Seperately, government officials disclosed that at least two
people believed to be associates of Mr. bin Laden, and who may have
been involved in the attack, entered the United States recently,
slipping into the country before the Immigration and Naturalization
Service was told to prevent their entry.
Acting swiftly today, investigators obtained warrants and
searched businesses and homes in New Jersey, Massachusetts and
Florida. They made no arrests but interrogated several people,
compiling an outline of the terror group's structure. They prepared
biographies of each identified member of the hijack teams and began
tracing the recent movements of the men.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said that each flight was seized
by three to six hijackers who boarded as passengers, then, with
knives and boxcutters, overwhelmed the crew.
Officials said the hijackings featured many elements of previous
operations sponsored by Mr. bin Laden: small teams; a coordinating
commander who arrives on the scene at the final moment; and
logistical support by local sympathizers. Investigators were
focusing on possible confederates in Boston, metropolitan Washington
and Union City, N.J. — near the three airports from which the
hijacked planes departed.
Mr. Ashcroft said that the hijack teams included pilots who had
been trained in the United States, at least two of them at a
commercial flight school in Florida.
Officials said that a breakthrough came when a witness alerted
the authorities to a rental car parked at Logan International Airport in Boston. The vehicle yielded
an Arabic- language flight manual and other documents that contained
a name on the passenger list of one of the flights. Also from the
car search, officials said, investigators found names of other
Separately, officials said a group of about five men were now
under investigation in Union City, suspected of assisting the
hijackers. In addition, the officials said the men had apparently
set up cameras near the Hudson River and fixed them on the World
Trade Center. They photographed the attacks and were said to have
congratulated each other afterward, officials said.
Investigators were reviewing the activities of Mr. bin Laden's
associates around the world in recent months. A senior federal
official said that American intelligence had recently identified
several people believed to be linked to Mr. bin Laden and his
organization and had told the immigration service that they should
be placed on a watch list to prevent them from entering the United
States. "There was intelligence that these guys were potential
problems," the official said.
After a check following that notification, immigration officials
responded that at least two of those identified people were already
in the United States, the official said. The F.B.I. was told, and
began a search for them, the official said. The official, who did
not provide their names, said that it is possible the people were
involved in Tuesday's attacks.
"Of course, just because they were possible associates of Osama
bin Laden doesn't tell you that the World Trade Center is about to
be attacked," the official added.
Another official said that one passenger aboard American Flight
77, which left from Dulles International Airport and struck the
Pentagon, had been placed on the list after entering the country in
June through Los Angeles. It was unclear whether the man, who
traveled using a Saudi passport, was one of the bin Laden associates
cited in the report.
With 4,000 F.B.I. agents and 3,000 support personnel on the case,
Mr. Ashcroft called the inquiry "the most massive and intensive
investigation ever conducted in America."
Officials said that each of the four hijacking teams had a leader
but worked independently, though the teams appeared to be aware that
their actions were being closely coordinated with the other
At least one team entered the United States via Canada and made
its way to Boston, where the flights of the two aircraft that struck
the World Trade Center originated.
Each team was aided by confederates in Newark, Boston and
Virginia, who were responsible for logistical support, including
money, rental cars, credit cards and lodging, law enforcement
officials said today.
In addition to the flights from Boston that struck the trade
center and the one from Dulles which crashed into the Pentagon, a
fourth flight, departing from Newark International Airport, crashed
in a field in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Officials also said the teams were coordinated by one supervising
commander who has not been identified, but who apparently helped
select the flights and targets and orchestrated the attacks to occur
at roughly the same time. The whereabouts of the commander are
The officials said they reached that conclusion after assembling
information from the flights' passenger lists; pay telephone
records; phoned reports from passengers aboard the hijacked flights
and evidence taken from the rental car found at Logan Airport.
Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the F.B.I., said the
bureau was investigating the activities of several suspected
hijackers who were known to have lived for months in Florida and
attended flight training school.
As of tonight, several people, whom the authorities declined to
identify, had been detained on immigration violations and were being
In Massachusetts, law enforcement officials said they were
investigating whether several hijackers crossed the border from
Canada and flew from Portland, Me., to Boston.
At Logan Airport, F.B.I. agents and the local police seized a car
that was registered in Virginia. A witness reported the car to
authorities, recalling two men having an argument next to the car on
In Maine, a spokesman for Gov. Angus S. King Jr. said that the
F.B.I. had determined that two suspected hijackers took an
early-morning commuter flight from Portland to Logan on Tuesday,
before boarding a flight that was hijacked.
At the request of the F.B.I., the local police impounded a rental
car the men left at the Portland airport, according to John Ripley,
Governor King's spokesman.
Early today, F.B.I. agents searched Huffman Aviation in Venice,
Fla., where they believed two suspected hijackers learned to fly
commuter jets last year.
Rudi Dekkers, the company's president, said that agents asked him
about two former students, Marwan al-Shehhi and Mohammed Atta.
Mr. Dekkers said that both men attended his flight school from
July until November 2000 for training on single- and multi-engine
small jets. Mr. Dekkers said they completed the course and graduated
to training for larger jets, but he did not know where they
conducted that training.
"We gave the F.B.I. the files and passport copies and
everything," Mr. Dekkers said. "We hold them for every student." He
added that the authorities "suspect they had something to do with
The school has conducted flight training for 20 years. Mr.
Dekkers said that thousands of students from around the world attend
it. "I am mad as you are about what happened," he said. "There is no
way of knowing what they had in mind."
State-owned television in Abu Dhabi reported today that two
suspects connected to the flights from Logan were Wa'el Mohammad al-
Shihri and Ahmad Ibrahim Ali al- Hazzouni. The network said that the
pair carried Saudi passports.
The police in Coral Springs, Fla., said that F.B.I. agents also
searched an apartment there late on Tuesday.
Federal authorities released a bulletin for two vehicles — a 1989
two- door red Pontiac with license number D79 DDV or DVD, and a tan
four- door Oldsmobile with license number VEP 54N.
A senior crash investigator for the National Transportation
Safety Board said it would be a huge challenge to find the voice and
data recorders — the "black boxes" — from the planes that hit the
First, he said, the sonic pingers that let searchers home in on
boxes only function in water.
Then, he added, "The airplanes are probably so fragmented, and
with all the other debris there, that coming up with those boxes is
going to be a very difficult task, assuming they even survived the
blast and fire."