September 12, 2001

FBI Questioning 'Several' People as Probe Intensifies

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. agents in hot pursuit of those who may have been responsible for Tuesday's deadly tragedies took into custody several people in Boston, Massachusetts, and Florida as the investigation intensified.

The individuals have not been arrested and they have not been described as suspects.

The investigation, involving hundreds of agents and numerous law enforcement agencies, played out on several fronts across the country as the hunt for the culprits intensified.

Sources said the individuals may be able to provide "important material information" related to the attacks.

Boston is a focus of the investigation because two of Tuesday's four hijacked flights originated at Logan Airport. A car was also impounded at that airport and suspicious material was seized. A local newspaper said the material was in Arabic.

In Florida, people were taken into custody both in Venice and Vero Beach. In both instances, there were ties to aviation schools.

In Coral Springs, police said they accompanied the FBI Tuesday night to a home where one of the suspected hijackers may have lived. Police also issued a lookout alert for two cars -- a 1989 two-door red Pontiac with the license plate D79-DDV or DVD and a four-door Oldsmobile with the license plate VEP-54N -- but it was not clear why those cars were being sought.

Boston probe looks at car

Heavily armed police and FBI agents swarmed the Westin Hotel in the Copley Square area of Boston, but it was not known if anyone was taken into custody there.

Law enforcement officials confirmed that a car was seized at Boston's Logan International Airport and that suspicious materials were found. The Boston Herald said there were Arabic language flight training manuals in the car, but Debbie Weirerman of the Boston FBI refused to confirm or deny that report.

Meanwhile, in Portland, Maine, police said that two individuals who traveled by plane from that city to Boston were under investigation.

"I can tell you those two individuals did get on a plane and fly to Boston early yesterday morning. I cannot tell you who they are, I cannot tell you where they came from. I can tell you that they are the focus of a federal investigation," said Portland Police Chief Mike Chitwood.

He said that the two were recorded on video tape as they went through the Portland Jetport's security cameras. It was not immediately clear whether the two individuals were on any of the hijacked planes.

Maine authorities said a car -- a rented silver Nissan Altima with Massachusetts plates -- was seized from the Portland airport Tuesday evening. Authorities believe the two men -- possible hijackers -- used that car to travel to the airport, where they boarded an early morning commercial flight to Boston.

At a news conference at Logan, Charles Prouty, the FBI's Boston area director, refused to comment on the investigation.

People questioned in Florida

At least 10 FBI agents searched two houses in Vero Beach and took one man into custody for questioning.

The immediate neighborhood was temporarily evacuated after FBI agents knocked on doors and said there was a bomb scare. Residents have been allowed back in their homes.

Little information was available after the nature of the search.

The son-in law of the owner of one of the houses said a Middle Eastern family lived in the house. The son-in-law said he thought the man was enrolled in a nearby aviation safety school because he wore the uniform of the Piper school.

The family, the son-in-law said, moved out over the weekend. The wife, he said, dressed very modestly in Middle Eastern style clothing, covering her face and hair.

FBI took into custody for questioning one person who rented one of the two houses. He is believed to be an acquaintance of another man tied to the flight safety school.

Earlier, one search warrant was served in the Vero Beach area of Indian River County, but no details were available. Other areas in Broward County were also under scrutiny, but one law enforcement official said what investigators have so far is "purely vanilla," meaning no solid leads have materialized.

In Venice, several people were taken into custody in connection with Huffman Aviation International Flight School, including the man who runs it.

In Daytona Beach, the FBI was also seeking search warrants, where a car was towed by authorities.

Phone calls may provide clues

The United States also intercepted two phone calls made after Tuesday's terrorist attacks against the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center, and the conversations were between members of al Qaeda, an organization sponsored by suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

In those conversations, U.S. law enforcement officials said, the individuals discussed hitting two U.S. targets.

As part of the investigation, authorities are checking passenger manifests from the crashed airplanes to see if they include anyone who attended flight schools in the United States or who used facilities that have airline simulators.

After an initial review of those manifests, investigators are looking at several people, including at least one with suspected links to bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi exile living in Afghanistan who is the accused mastermind of the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Authorities, sources said, believe three to five hijackers were on board each of the four planes that crashed Tuesday. Two jets slammed into the towers of New York's World Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon, and the fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Sources also said it's likely that at least one hijacker on each plane knew how to fly an aircraft.

-- CNN correspondents Kelli Arena and Eileen O'Connor in Washington, Susan Candiotti in Florida and Boston Bureau Chief Bill Delaney contributed to this report.

Copyright 2001, Cable News Network. All rights reserved.

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