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Investigation Continues into Terrorist Networks

Aired September 18, 2001 - 20:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: The places and the block.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know we've got a suspect.


ANNOUNCER: Plus, what authorities knew six years ago. New revelations, raise disturbing questions. Now from Washington, Greta Van Susteren.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Greta will be joining us shortly from the Pentagon. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Until she gets her technical problems worked out over there, let's continue with her program.

Has it only been one week? We've seen so much and learned so much. Who ever thought we'd ever see this, searchers picking through the rubble of the World Trade Center. These are the close-up pictures from today. Also today, we learned that there were clues before it all happened, that FBI agents were at least suspicious of some individuals' behavior, people who are now tied to what looks like a broad, hijacking conspiracy.

Have you been able to keep up? It's hard to keep up with all the names and developments. So tonight, we asked CNN national correspondent Mike Boettcher to look back at how far we've come in tracking the terrorists.


MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tuesday, the investigation begins as soon as the second plane, United flight 175, crashes into the World Trade Center just after 9:00 a.m. The World Trade Center is the crime scene, but Boston's Logan Airport, the starting point of two hijacked flights, is where the FBI starts its work.

Agents pull flight manifests, interview gate agents, check surveillance footage. They find important leads on the passenger list, match them to rental cars at Logan and the Portland Maine Airport that track back to the suspected hijackers. By Wednesday, the FBI has 4,000 agents working the case. 3,000 others supporting their efforts. It's the largest single investigation in U.S. history. And FBI director Robert Mueller says agents are making progress.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: We have in the last 24 hours, taken the manifest and used those as an evidentiary base, and have talked to many of the families of the victims. And have successfully, I believe, identified many of the hijackers on each of the four flights that went down.

BOETTCHER: The investigation expands to Florida, where addresses associated with suspected hijackers are searched. Another important development.

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: A number of the suspected hijackers were trained as pilots in the United States.

BOETTCHER: Agents check records at first of what will be dozens of flight schools around the country. Two of the alleged hijackers, Mohammed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, spent time at this school, Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida.

RUDY DEKKERS, HUFFMAN AVIATION: We know now that they were flying with us from July to November. And after our flight school, they went to another flight school. So they've been planning this for quite a while.


BOETTCHER: As leads come into the FBI's hotline and web site, it puts out a watch list for people it thinks know something about the hijacking or hijackers. By early Thursday, in Hamburg, Germany, police are searching four apartments. They're looking for information about two of the alleged hijackers, Mohammed Atta and Marwan Al- Shehhi, who were students at the technical university there.

And they're sure another hijacker has Hamburg links. More apartments will be searched the next day. In Florida, agents get the rental car records for Mohammed Atta, as they try to reconstruct his movements. He'd driven thousands of miles in the weeks before the hijackings.

BRAD WARRICK, WARRICK'S RENTAL CAR: We almost averaged 100 miles a day that day. Those days, and that's a lot of driving.

BOETTCHER: Thursday night, New York's three airports reopen. Several people are detained. One allegedly for flashing a fake pilot ID at JFK Airport. And two men are taken of an Amtrak train in Fort Worth, Texas. They'd been on a diverted flight, were head to San Antonio, allegedly carrying box cutters when they were stopped.

There are many detentions on immigration charges but still as Thursday ends, no arrests. Friday, as the names of 19 hijackers are made public, agents are chasing 36,000 leads. And the FBI's watch list grows to about 100 names. ASHCROFT: These are the names of individuals, the FBI would like to talk to because we believe they may have information that could be helpful to the investigation.

BOETTCHER: The first arrest takes place for a material witness. It is the man taken off the plane at JFK after allegedly flashing false ID. And the FBI search spreads to the west coast, to this apartment complex in San Diego, where the Monday before the attack, three men leave town in a hurry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had a truck right here. They were moving out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see them anywhere?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, I never seen nobody move at midnight.

BOETTCHER: While investigation continues from coast to coast, President Bush makes it clear that his top suspect is Osama Bin Laden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know who did it?

BUSH: We know we got a suspect.

BOETTCHER: Saturday, more leads in different cities. The FBI looks for a connection between San Antonio and Jersey City. The links aren't completely clear, but they appear to involve the two men taken off that Amtrak earlier in the week and this apartment in Jersey City.

Another link is being made. Two of the suspected hijackers are linked to the bombing of the USS Cole, another attack against Americans that points towards Osama Bin Laden. The two men, Khalid Al-Madhar and Saleem Al-Hamsi, were put on an INS watch list after a CIA alert. By that time, sources tell CNN, the two men are already in the U.S.

Sunday brings the FBI back to this Del Ray Beach, Florida apartment. where suspected hijackers Saeed Al-Gambi (ph) lived. By the next day, they will be able to trace all nine suspects in the hijacking of the two United airlines jets, the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and the field in Pennsylvania to this location.

By now, there are four material witnesses in custody. But the man listed as suspect number one, Osama Bin Laden, issues a statement saying he's not involved.

Monday, Attorney General Ashcroft warns more terrorist cells could still be operational in the U.S.

ASHCROFT: Associates of the hijackers that have ties to terrorist organizations may be a continuing presence in the United States.

BOETTCHER: Meanwhile, authorities want to know if this man, Zacarias Moussaoui, who has been in INS custody since mid August, might be linked to the hijackers. And on Monday, at least one suspect hijacker of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, Hani Hanjour is traced to a May visit to this flying school in Maryland, just 25 miles from Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, the FBI tries to follow-up leads that number close to 100,000, including the possibility that more than four planes were targeted for hijacking. And word emerges that hijacking suspect Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official earlier this year.

But officials caution, this does not mean a definite link to Iraq. That is one the many puzzle pieces investigators must fit in place, one week after the bombing.


But investigators believe that Mohammed Atta could very likely have been the on-the-ground coordinator for these attacks against New York and Washington -- Wolf.

BLITZER Mike, Mohammed Atta obviously traveled a great deal. How did he get around? What kind of documents? What was his mode of travel?

BOETTCHER: Usually by rental car. At one point, in south Florida, Wolf, in late August, the last two weeks of August, he had a rental car and he put about 3,000 miles on it in a couple of weeks. And the suspicion is that he was traveling up and down the East coast, making contact with other people who might have been involved, but they haven't proven that.

And he also flew back and forth to Hamburg in February of this year. Now that coincides with about the time that intelligence sources are saying that he met with an official of Iraqi intelligence. He had gone to Hamburg. That would've put him in that central European location. We don't know what country he actually went to.

BLITZER: Mike Boettcher, thank you very much for updating us on the investigation. very thorough job.

And one of the amazing things about tracking this conspiracy is how many countries it seems to touch. For example, investigators in the Philippines tipped-off U.S. authorities about a chilling plot six years ago.

CNN's Maria Ressa has details.


MARIA RESSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A small fire in an apartment in Manila six years ago led investigators to a plot that may not have been taken seriously enough at the time. Ramzi Yousef, the man behind the first bombing of the World Trade Center, was planning to recruit pilots to hijack U.S. jetliners and crash them into government buildings. That apartment fire tipped off police to Yousef's hideout. He fled, but agents caught his right-hand man, Abdul Hakim Murad. And Murad soon was telling a chilling tale.

RODOLFO MENDOZA, JR., PHILLIPINE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: (INAUDIBLE) Murad narrated to us about a plan maybe (INAUDIBLE) cell in the continental U.S., to hijack a commercial plane and run it to the CIA quarters in Langley, Virginia and also the Pentagon.

RESSA: Investigators also found evidence targeting commercial towers in San Francisco, Chicago and New York City.

RIGOBERTO TIGLAO, PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN: The targets they listed were CIA headquarters, Pentagon, Transamerica, Sears and the World Trade Center.

RESSA (on camera): Investigators in Manila say the information was turned over to the FBI in 1995. Those who worked on the case here say the story sounded far-fetched then, until much of it became all too true a week ago.

(voice-over) Ramzi Yousef once listed his occupation as "international terrorist" on an ID card. He has long been considered a disciple of Islamic militant leader Osama Bin Laden. It is Bin Laden whom the U.S. considers the prime suspect behind the hijackings of the jetliners flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the deadliest act of terrorism in history. Yousef's right-hand man in Manila, Murad, was a pilot who admitted he had been trained in Afghanistan, as well as the U.S.

AVELINO RAZON, PHILLIPINE NATIONAL POLICE: He was principally recruited by Yousef's group and Bin Laden's group to undertake a suicide mission.

RESSA: Ramzi Yousef was caught in Pakistan and brought back to New York to stand trial for the original bombing of the World Trade Center. He was sentenced to life in prison. Also found on a computer in the Manila apartment, a separate plot to bomb 11 U.S. airliners on overseas flights. Murad also was brought to the United States to be tried with Yousef for that conspiracy. He, too, is serving life in a U.S. prison.

But the question remains, did the U.S. recognize then how a deadly threat could become a reality now?

Maria Ressa, CNN, Manila.

BLITZER: Greta Van Susteren now joins us from the Pentagon.

Greta, take over this program since it is THE POINT WITH GRETA VAN SUSTEREN.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Thanks, Wolf. Thanks a lot for bailing me out while we work these audio problems out.

From the Philippines to Florida and across the Atlantic to Europe, there are more developments to hear about. I'll assemble a point panel of CNN correspondents from around the world, after a quick break and our MONEYLINE update.


SUSTEREN: Authorities are tracking the terrorists in what seems like every corner of the world.

Joining me with the latest from Florida, where authorities say a number of the hijackers lived, is CNN's Susan Candiotti. With me here in Washington is CNN national correspondent Eileen O'Connor. And staying up late in London is CNN's Sheila Macvicar.

Sheila, first to you. Take me to Europe and tell me what is the investigation like in Europe? And especially focus on the finances.

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, on the finance side, there was conference call today between 10 or 12 regulators of various markets around the globe. It spans all the way into Asia, not just here in Europe.

They are specifically asking investigators to look at whether or not there might have been manipulation of the market, whether or not people might actually have had advanced knowledge and then used that knowledge to profit through selling stocks short, essentially betting that those stocks would go down.

In particular, regulators are looking at a number of European insurance and reinsurance companies firms in Germany, Switzerland and France. They are also taking a look at the stocks of the Dutch Airline KLM. KLM has said that they are aware that there were large transactions in their stock. It's not clear yet whether of this is linked to criminal activity or if it's simply part of the -- what we see as a global downturn around the markets, but they are looking at it very seriously, Greta.

SUSTEREN: Sheila, Mr. Osama Bin Laden is a very wealthy man. Is there any suspicion that he himself took the advantage of the financial situation beginning with September 11?

MACVICAR: Mr. Bin Laden is a very wealthy man. And he has had lot of time to build a very sophisticated financial network using shell companies and all kinds of ways of concealing his bank and other financial transactions.

It's not yet clear to regulators if he has been in the market and in what way he might have been in the market or if there are people who are associated with him or had prior knowledge who could have been doing this.

That's one of the things that regulators are looking at very, very closely, trying to build that trail back to Mr. Bin Laden.

SUSTEREN: All right, from London to Washington, D.C., Eileen O'Connor what's going on at the Justice Department? EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Justice Department has some 70 people in custody under INS violations. They also have well over 10 material witness warrants, sources say. And they are basically closing in, Greta, on four distinct areas in the United States: Oklahoma, New Jersey, Florida, and Texas.

And all of them seem to revolve around a group of people and back through people who in fact were defendants in trials of other terrorist attacks, that had been allegedly orchestrated by Bin Laden, like the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and also the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.

SUSTEREN: Eileen, you raise Oklahoma. That's relatively new. What's going on in Oklahoma in the investigation?

O'CONNOR: Well, there are several people that have been going to flight schools. And the authorities have in custody, in fact they had them in custody two weeks before this attack, a French Algerian who was trying to -- who was attending flight school and he was traveling on false documents. He looks to be fairly significant, Zacarias Moussaoui.

And he also ended up attending a flight school. In fact, Greta, that Ali, who's in custody in New York for charges relating to the embassy bombings, the U.S. embassy bombings. And so it's a coincidence or it's also, you know, again, part of this pattern that a lot of these hijackers ended up going to the same schools repeatedly. They'd go back and forth.

SUSTEREN: Susan, Florida flight schools down in Florida. hotels, apartment search, tell me about the investigation there.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're looking everywhere. The FBI here in Florida looking for possible associates or accomplices that may have helped the hijackers. So they're spending a lot of time on that, as well as looking for additional links among the suspected hijackers they already know about.

For example, they've been able to tie at least 10 of them to a particular apartment building in Del Ray Beach, Florida. And just a couple of days ago, the FBI is now testing evidence that they've retrieved from that apartment, looking to confirm that they have physical evidence that can link at least 10 of them to that one apartment.

That could be significant. Also tonight, Senator Bob Graham of Florida held a news conference and said that he confirmed that the strikes of last week were the first of a series of planned attacks. He said he bases that information on intelligence reports.

SUSTEREN: Susan, anything more on that on how many other possible attacks? And do we know if the four terrorist acts, those four airplanes had there been more in the works that were thwarted?

CANDIOTTI: Well, the Justice Department did say today that they believed that there were more attacks in the works. Senator Graham, however, would not elaborate on what intelligence he had.

SUSTEREN: Can you could help me out on that, Eileen? Were there other attacks that were thwarted?

O'CONNOR: There's certainly evidence of that. In fact, they arrested last week two men that were on a train from St. Louis to San Antonio. They started out with tickets, Greta, from a Newark to San Antonio flight. And they were found on that train with box cutters.

Now they were taken into INS custody. They are cooperating. And let me tell you, when they started cooperating, this investigation revved up. So it does appear that they were in fact, that they could have been linked to, according to sources, to a thwarted hijacking plan. And also law enforcement authorities tell me that they do believe that there are still other people associated with this plot out there and they do believe that there were other plans.

For instance, there was a back up plan in case these hijackings didn't go off.

SUSTEREN: Sheila, in Europe, were there were any plans to go after any American targets in Europe? And is conspiracy thought to be much broader throughout Europe?

MACVICAR: Well, there had been some talk about that. Over the course of the weekend, there was a number of arrests, both in Amsterdam and in Brussels. And we know that French prosecutors, French investigating magistrates, have gone to Brussels to take a look at the suspects arrested there.

The French have said that they believe that there was a plot which has been intercepted and the objective of that plot was to blow up the American Embassy in Paris. Mow Greta, you know the American Embassy in Paris. It sits right on the street.

There is very little, very little way in fact that it could be protected from somebody who was really determined to do something. And investigators in Europe say that they believe that that was the game plan here.

In addition to that, there is more stuff coming out, just on the whole subject of the investigation. There is more stuff coming out from Hamburg which as you remember, does appear to be quite key in this. Authorities at Hamburg University are now saying that there is fourth man. Remember they've linked three of the hijackers to this university, including Mohammed Atta, who is believed to have been the pilot of the first plane that went into the World Trade Center building.

There is a fourth man, a fourth man who the authorities in Germany say they believe was responsible for getting visas for these pilots to the United States, a man who they believe may now be in Pakistan. And somebody they say who was very busy on the Internet the day of the bombings, the day of the attacks, up until three hours after the attacks began. And he apparently has dropped the Internet. At least they haven't been able to trace him since. SUSTEREN: Sheila, who's running the investigation in Europe? And what's the cooperation with the U.S.?

MACVICAR: There are a number of different forces running the investigation. And there are simultaneous investigations taking place here and other places in the Middle East, for example.

In Germany, you have the German national police and various intelligence services. In, France, you have investigating magistrates who have been running for a long time investigations which may overlap with this. They may find as they did for example, with the millennium bomb plot in Seattle and Los Angeles, they may find that some of the same characters keep popping up.

They find them in their networks and then U.S. authorities find them involved in activities in the United States. And of course, there are the British. There is a tremendous amount of cooperation, including not just what people know on the ground. There is a lot of sharing of other kinds of intelligence information. And there was a lot of sharing, an ongoing sharing between particularly the British and the Americans with signals intelligence.

The British have a satellite up over the Indian Ocean. And that satellite, British Intelligence sources say, has been providing some information which has led British intelligence to independently conclude that in fact it was Osama Bin Laden who was behind this.

SUSTEREN: Eileen, in 20 seconds we have left, is it running smoothly? Is there any in-fighting in the investigation in the United States?

O'CONNOR: Well, it's running smoothly because they know what's at stake here and they do believe that there are other people around, but it is very confusing, Greta. There are a lot of missing links. It's like a huge puzzle that's been thrown up in the air. And they've to fit all those pieces together.

SUSTEREN: All right, my thanks tonight to my colleague Susan Candiotti, Eileen O'Connor and Sheila Macvicar.

Our next stop in tracking the terrorists is San Antonio, Texas. The FBI took a radiologist from there to New York for questioning, and later arrested him as a material witness. The doctor worked for the University of Texas at San Antonio's Health Science Center. The center's president, Dr. Francis Cigarroa joins me from San Antonio.

Doctor, Dr. Alhamzi is the doctor, the radiologist who is now a material witness and under arrest. What can you could tell me about him?


SUSTEREN: Doctor Cigarroa?


SUSTEREN: Can you hear me.

CIGARROA: Now I can.

SUSTEREN: OK, great. Dr. Alhamzi is the radiologist who was a resident in your program who is now in FBI custody, what you can you tell me about him?

CIGARROA: Well, Greta, Dr. Alhamzi is a resident in the Department of Radiology at our Health Science Center. He has been here for four years. He has one more year to complete in order to finish his training as a resident in radiology.

He's been a resident in good standing. He graduated from medical school in Saudi Arabia in 1991. And we first learned that the FBI was inquiring about this individual here in our Health Science Center on Wednesday.

SUSTEREN: Was there anything unusual about him, Dr. Cigarroa?

CIGARROA: Well, Greta I'm still an active physician at the Health Science Center as a transplant surgeon. And I actually have interacted on one occasion with this individual on a professional basis. And in fact, he performed his duties well on that case.

There was nothing really at that point in time that was unusual or certainly that I could recognize that was out of the ordinary.

SUSTEREN: What about the fact that he didn't show up for work in September 11? Was that unusual?

CIGARROA: Greta, can you repeat that, please?

SUSTEREN: Was it unusual that he didn't show up to work on September 11?

CIGARROA: Well, Greta, he was studying for boards. He was actually about to take his written boards in radiology this past Friday. And he actually made arrangements to have another resident take over his responsibilities for that day. So it certainly didn't raise any flags on that day that he was absent.

SUSTEREN: What about are there any other flags, or did any colleagues or any connection to perhaps to Osama Bin Laden, anybody at all or anything funny to you?

CIGARROA: Well I've had an opportunity since Wednesday to speak to many staff members and administrators. And even looking through the retroscope, there was nothing out of the ordinary that would make us suspect that this individual was, if these facts come out to be valid, that he was a danger to our society in any way or form.

SUSTEREN: And of course, he is simply under arrest as being a material witness. My thanks tonight to Dr. Francis Cigarroa.

CIGARROA: Thank you very much, Greta.

SUSTEREN: Let me though what you think. Send an e-mail to That's one word, askGreta.

I'm Greta Van Susteren in Washington. Up next on "LARRY KING," King Abdullah of Jordan discusses Osama Bin Laden's plots and his nation's efforts to foil them.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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