Majority of hijackers had legal visas

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — At least 16 of the 19 suspected hijackers who commandeered American jetliners entered the United States with legal visas, U.S. authorities said Monday, adding to a portrait of terrorists who took advantage of America’s open society as they planned their murderous assault on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

Fifteen of the suspects received business or tourist visas from U.S. consular offices abroad, while one arrived with a visa permitting him to take vocational courses — such as airplane flight training, a source said. Once in the United States, the men simply blended in, even as some of their visas apparently expired.

As the largest criminal investigation in U.S. history ended its first week, U.S. authorities announced Monday that 49 people with potential connections to the probe had been detained for possible immigration violations, while others had been arrested on material witness warrants sealed by federal courts on national security grounds. They said the numbers are growing.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told reporters that some detained individuals are cooperating, while others are not. Investigators are picking up so many people and scrutinizing so many documents, from seized papers and intercepted communications, that Mueller Monday made a national appeal for fluent Arabic and Farsi speakers.

The web of inquiry spread as federal authorities worked to unravel details of the hijackers’ support network and solve a central riddle: Are more terrorists at large in the United States? Are more attacks planned?

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said surviving associates of the hijackers have "ties" to terrorist organizations and "may be a continuing presence in the United States." Ashcroft said he would seek stronger investigative powers and announced that 300 members of the U.S. Marshals Service had been added to the team probing the terrorist assault.

Elsewhere, the FBI searched homes and businesses and continued to track scores of individuals wanted for questioning.

One focus of the investigation is e-mail traffic among the alleged conspirators. The FBI has asked Microsoft Corp. for e-mail records from a Hotmail account that has the word pilot and the letter Z in the address, according to a source familiar with the court order. The government is also seeking information from accounts managed by America Online, Earthlink and several mid-sized providers.

Developments in other areas included:

  • In Boston, federal officials were investigating a report that a man lacking proper clearance gained entry into the control tower at Boston’s Logan Airport just three days before the terrorist strikes. Two of the hijacked planes departed from Logan and slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

  • In Montreal, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is investigating whether some suspects in the terrorist attack on New York and Washington may have taken lessons at a local flight school, said the flight school’s owner.

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