WASHINGTON – Investigators recovered a black box recorder from the hijacked plane that went down in Pennsylvania, and searchers picked up a signal from the recorder in the jet that slammed into the Pentagon.
The investigation of the terrorist attacks moved forward Thursday both in the United States and abroad. German authorities said three of the terrorists who died in the suicide attacks were part of a group of Islamic extremists in Hamburg who have been planning attacks on the United States.
Hamburg investigators said two of the terrorists were Mohamed Atta, 33, and Marwan Alshehhi, 23, whose training at a Florida flight school has been the focus of intense FBI interest this week. The German investigators said the two were from the United Arab Emirates.
Acting on a tip from the FBI, police in Hamburg detained one man and were seeking another. The police did not say how the detainee might have been linked to the attacks.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said a total of 18 hijackers took over the four planes. Their names and photographs were to be released soon.
“The FBI is working thousands and thousands of leads,” Ashcroft said.
Search crews will not be able to retrieve the black box at the Pentagon until they are able to enter the collapsed area of the building where the plane’s fuselage rests.
The recorders could contain information about the last minutes of the hijacked commercial jetliners.
A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the recorder box had been recovered from the Pennsylvania crash site.
Elsewhere, authorities searched a flight school in Minnesota where some of the hijackers may have trained, and they detained one man in the state. Also, they were looking for a Muslim cleric who previously was questioned by prosecutors in the 1990s embassy bombings case linked to bin Laden.
An FBI official was headed for the Azores Islands to interview two Iranians detained a week ago after they tried to travel to Canada with fake passports, authorities said. Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Rafael Macedo said officials are searching the country for at least nine people who may have helped plan the attacks.
The Muslim cleric who was being sought, Moataz Al-Hallak, left the Northeast on Monday, the day before the attacks, and traveled to Texas, according to authorities and his lawyer.
Al-Hallak’s lawyer, Stanley Cohen, said FBI agents want to question his client about whether he told people about the attacks before they occurred.
“I asked Moataz about it, and he was shocked and just laughed. It’s preposterous,” Cohen said.
Al-Hallak appeared three times before a federal grand jury in New York in the case of the U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa linked to bin Laden. He was never charged with wrongdoing.
Ashcroft said the FBI’s 800-number hot line had received 2,055 calls. In addition, its Web site had received more than 22,700 tips, he said.
While the hijackers were all ticketed passengers, some of the hijackers may have used aliases to get on the planes, law enforcement officials said.
A number of people that could be involved in the plot were detained overnight for having false identification, Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said.
One focus of the FBI is on flight schools in Florida and Minnesota that trained some of the men apparently involved in the hijackings. The owner of a Minnesota flight school said FBI agents had contacted him asking about specific people.
In Florida on Thursday, FBI agents were interviewing three Saudi Arabian flight engineers who are taking classes at Flightsafety International’s school in Vero Beach, company spokesman Roger Ritchie said. He declined to name the engineers.
The school does not have simulators for Boeing 767 and 757 aircraft such as the ones involved in Tuesday’s attacks, Ritchie said.
Thomas Quinn, a New York-based spokesman for Saudi Arabian Airlines, said many of the airline’s pilots came to the United States for flight training.
The FBI questioned a Fort Smith, Ark., couple after telling police agencies across the state Wednesday that the woman was “possibly related to the New York City terrorist attack,” state police spokeswoman Kim Fontaine said. The husband was being held Thursday for federal immigration officials and the woman was taken away by agents and her whereabouts were not released, the Southwest Times Record newspaper at Fort Smith reported.
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