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Antigua kidnap plot linked to sniper suspect

sniper
Antiguan Prime Minister Lester Bird

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A recording of a call to Rockville, Maryland police October 15 believed to be from one of the alleged snipers (November 1)
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Investigators are working to decide who should receive the $500,000 reward for the information that led to the sniper suspects' capture. CNN's Patty Davis reports.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An Antiguan government official said Saturday that investigators believe Washington-area sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad was planning to kidnap that country's prime minister.

"We have reliable information that Muhammad wanted to kidnap Prime Minister Lester Bird and hold him for ransom," Maurice Merchant, public relations director of the government of Antigua, told CNN.

In a statement, Bird said he is "deeply troubled" about documents found by a task force investigating Muhammad's dealings in Antigua, where he lived from March 2000 to May 2001.

"I have been informed that my own safety may have been at risk," Bird said.

John Fuller, an Antiguan attorney leading the investigation, says word of the plot came from a "witness" associated with Muhammad.

Antigua's Attorney General, Gertel Thom, said in a statement that the task force "received reliable information that John Allen Williams had proposed a scheme to kidnap the prime minister and request a ransom for his release."

Williams changed his name to Muhammad in 2001 after he converted to Islam.

Thom also disclosed that Antiguan police have executed search warrants as part of the investigation and confiscated two computers they believe Muhammad used while in Antigua. Fuller says they contained no incriminating information.

An interim report on Muhammad released by the task force in Antigua Saturday only detailed Muhammad's efforts upon his arrival in that country to hide his identity and that of his children, as well as secure false documents, including a passport.

"The man was a habitual forger," said Fuller.

Authorities search cold cases for sniper links

U.S. authorities from coast to coast continue looking for any evidence connecting Muhammad, 41, and fellow sniper suspect John Lee Malvo, 17, to crimes in their areas.

Authorities in Oregon have checked 40 cases dating back to 1994, when Muhammad was living there and serving in the National Guard. Oregon State Police Sgt. Andy Olson said they have found no cases that fit the description of a sniper attack.

To the south, in Monterey County, California, where Muhammad lived for about a year while in the military, some cases are being examined, but authorities said they are not recent and that no links have yet been found.

In Texas, police are again questioning the owner of a gun stand who reported one handgun stolen at a gun show in El Paso July 20. The gun -- reported to be a Magnum .22 -- was found Wednesday in Montgomery, Alabama, near the site of a September 21 shooting.

According to El Paso Police Sgt. Javier Sambrano, the gun owner said there were several shoppers standing at his table when the gun disappeared.

D.C. shooting linked to sniper case

Task force investigators Friday linked yet another shooting to the D.C.-area sniper suspects -- this one 2 1/2 weeks before the fast-paced string of attacks began October 2 in and around the nation's capital.

Benny Oberoi, 22, an employee of a liquor store in Silver Spring, Maryland, was shot and wounded by a single bullet soon after he and his boss closed up the store on Saturday, September 14. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Authorities had been looking at the case for weeks to see if it was connected to the sniper suspects. Now, the alleged snipers are blamed for killing 10 people and wounding four others in the Washington metropolitan area.

Montgomery County Police Capt. Nancy Demme told CNN Friday ballistic evidence was inconclusive, but that the circumstances of the shooting, witness accounts and the fact that the sniper suspects' 1990 Chevrolet Caprice was in the area that day resulted in investigators tying the shooting to the other cases.

"The combination of those three factors led the task force to officially link this shooting to the other sniper shootings," she said.

Robert Wilkerson, a 19-year-old clerk at the Safeway grocery store near the Hillandale Beer & Wine store, told police he saw a dark-colored Chevrolet Caprice leave the parking lot immediately after the shooting.

Wilkerson told CNN he heard the gunshot, saw the victim fall to the ground, and as he was running into the grocery store to call for help, he saw the Caprice pull out of a parking space.

"It was like an old police car," Wilkerson said. He said the car pulled out slowly, but he did not notice which direction the car went upon leaving the parking lot.

This is now the earliest of any shootings that authorities have officially linked to suspects Muhammad,and Malvo, pre-dating two fatal shootings in Alabama and Louisiana. Those two shootings happened the following week, September 21 and September 23.

In those two cases, the bullets retrieved from the victims were linked through ballistic tests to the Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle found in the suspects' car. (More on the rifle)

Ballistic tests have confirmed that the victims in the Alabama shooting were shot with the Bushmaster .223 rifle allegedly used by Muhammad and Malvo in the string of Washington-area sniper attacks. One woman there died, another was injured in an attempted robbery. Investigators have said that the discovery of the handgun, if linked to the Alabama crime, would suggest that a third person may have been involved.



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