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Thousands e-mail the FBI with clues


September 14, 2001

THE first official confirmation that America suspects Osama bin Laden of masterminding the terror attacks came last night from the Secretary of State, General Colin Powell.

The United States also disclosed that there was a total of 18 hijackers — five each on two of the planes and four on the other two — and that they are close to identifying them all.

The investigation into the atrocities has become the world’s first Internet manhunt, with 22,700 people e-mailing clues to the FBI.

Many Arab-Americans are being questioned by FBI agents studying the leads as potential witnesses, but nonehas been arrested. They are mainly being held for having false identification papers.

The dramatic confirmation that the Saudi rebel bin Laden is believed to be behind the terror attacks came during a press conference held by Mr Powell in Washington. He said that he would be speaking with Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, about measures that Islamabad could take to co-operate in dealing with candidates thought by the US to be involved.

“We haven’t yet publicly identified the organisation we believe was responsible but when you look at the list of candidates, one resides in that region,” General Powell said.

Asked if bin Laden was the candidate discussed in talks between American and Pakistan, General Powell replied: “Yes”.

There has been an enormous public response to the FBI investigation, the Attorney-General John Ashcroft said at another press conference.

“The FBI is working on thousands and thousands of leads,” he said.

The FBI’s website had received more than 22,700 tips and its free telephone hotline has had 2,055 calls. “Some of these leads have been helpful to the investigation,” Mr Ashcroft said.

The search is continuing for the black boxes of the four planes that crashed. Mr Ashcroft said that authorities were hopeful of finding the black box from the plane that crashed in rural Pennsylvania first. The others can only be traced by ploughing through the rubble of the World Trade Centre skyscrapers and the burnt-out Pentagon.

A remarkable succession of ignored warnings and security blunders by the American authorities was emerging last night.

Ten years ago suicidal Arab terrorists plotted to hijack two aeroplanes and crash them into buildings in Madrid, including the Royal Palace.

The hijackers of all four planes in Tuesday’s attacks were taught to fly in America, where flying schools are filled with foreigners training to become pilots.

French intelligence agents warned America a month ago that an Arab at a flying school in Boston had travelled to Afghanistan and was suspected of connections with bin Laden. Although the man was detained for having false papers, it appears that France’s warning was lost by the American police.

The hunt for the killers turned to Germany when it emerged that two flatmates had lived together in Hamburg before moving to America and learning to fly.

The pair drove together to Boston Airport, then parted company so they could take separate flights to Los Angeles. These were the two planes that hit the World Trade Centre.

The French disclosed that they began an investigation on Monday — the day before the US attacks — after being warned that bin Laden's followers were planning an attack on US targets in France.

BY DOMINIC KENNEDY AND ROLAND WATSON, Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.


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