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Florida Police Search Terror Suspects' Cars

Aired September 13, 2002 - 11:52   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Back now to our coverage of the breaking story of the morning, that situation on Alligator Alley, that stretch of Interstate 75 that runs from Naples, Florida, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which has been shut down for hours now and will be shut down for some time to come as bomb technicians continue to check out two vehicle on this highway, vehicles which were issued, which were basically the subject of a BOLO, Be On the Look Out alert, that was issued by a Georgia state highway patrolman and then picked up in Florida after a conversation was overheard by a customer in a Shoney's restaurant in Calhoun, Georgia, which is northwestern Georgia, almost extreme northwestern Georgia.
A conversation was overheard, and the lady who overheard the conversation -- her name was Eunice Stone -- believe that what she heard was three gentlemen discussing blowing something up in Miami, saying that if Americans were mourning what happened on 9/11, they would definitely mourn on 9/13. This Be on the Look Out alert resulted in the stop, the pulling over, of these two vehicles after one of them went through a toll booth on this highway without paying. A police officer then ensued chase, pulled over the vehicle after about 8 miles or so, and then the other vehicle pulled over voluntarily behind it.

Since then, the three men have been taken into custody. We understand that their identities and other information about them is being checked out right now. From what we have been able to learn from our Kelli Arena, in Washington, two of the men are naturalized U.S. citizens. Another one is a U.S. citizen, born here in the U.S. And all we know is that they, apparently, according this woman, Eunice Stone, they appear to be of Middle Eastern descent.

This is what she said when asked to describe what it was that she heard in that Shoney's restaurant.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

EUNICE STONE, WITNESS: We were seated directly across. There was only a piece of lattice work between the booth. And we were seated right next to three men that appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent. And at first, you know, I just went ahead with my breakfast. But then they were sitting there and they were laughing and they were talking about -- they were laughing about Americans mourning September the 11th. And I have very good hearing. And then they were saying if they mourn September 11, what will they think about September the 13th?

They said they had attended a party in Chicago the night before, and that they needed to quit stopping because they were five hours late. And then, I just naturally, my curiosity, I just kept listening, and something else was said, they were kind of huddled together there over the booth talking, and then one guy said, Do you think that will bring it down?

And I looked at my son and we were just looking at each other. And he said, Well, if that don't bring it down, I have contacts, I will get enough to bring it down. And to me, that meant they were planning to blow up something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Considering the fact the nation has been under a status Orange, a Code Orange alert for homeland security, Eunice Stone took that information, notified the authorities, and that is -- was the beginning of this whole incident that we have been watching. And it's been unfolding now for at least -- -they were pulled over at 1:00 a.m. So we are coming up on nearly 11, 12 hours that they have been sitting there on the highway.

They've now gone through one of the vehicles. It has been cleared. They have determined that it does not have anything explosive or dangerous in nature. They have pulled that vehicle away from the scene slightly. They are now looking into this vehicle right here.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring our John Zarrella in the couple minutes that we have left to wrap up our coverage for this hour. It will continue, of course.

John, what do you have from south Florida?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, we're here at the command center. I can see the two vehicles now from my vantage point. The trunk's open. We're about I'd say 300 to 400 yards from the two vehicles, where, of course, as you said, they have cleared the one vehicle and are continuing to work through what may be inside of that second vehicle. A Collier County Sheriff's Department helicopter just a few minutes ago landed here on the highway.

Again, as everyone is fully aware now, the road is completely blocked off. The two vehicles are sitting in the grass on either side of the eastbound lanes of I75. They have all of us on the westbound lanes of I75, again about 300 to 400 yards back from the vehicles, and of course, that whole area is completely blocked off with the bomb squad and the mobile batmobiles that are here and emergency response vehicles, etcetera, etcetera.

We are waiting for another update we hope within the next 10 to 15 minutes from police officials here on the latest information. But again, as you pointed out, they have apparently cleared the one vehicle and have moved it so that they could get better access to the other vehicles.

KAGAN: John, we have seen some pictures earlier -- once again, this is Alligator Alley, one of the main thoroughfares to get from west to east in that part of Florida. There are cars just backed up for miles, I imagine, as they have shut this highway down.

ZARRELLA: There is nothing backed up here now. What they have done is rerouted everyone down what's called the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Trail, which is Route 41, which is south of here, and then connecting back into I75, east of our location now. But there is a tremendous amount of traffic traversing on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Trail, which is heavily traveled now because of the shut down of this road, and that is a very narrow old, old road. It was the only way across many, many years ago from east to west here. And it is the principal route of travel right now and for the foreseeable next several hours to get from east to west here in southern Florida.

KAGAN: Last we heard of these detainees, because we heard the sheriff say don't call them suspects -- they haven't been charged with anything yet -- they are being held in a van. Do we know are still on the site, or have they been taken somewhere else?

ZARRELLA: That's exactly what we have heard out here. No one is confirming, but that is what we are hearing, that in fact, they are still here and have been questioning them on the scene since very early in the morning, which would now be going on about 11 hours or so that they maybe have been out here. But there is no indication at this point that they have been taken anywhere else. And they are in fact still here at the scene.

HARRIS: John, I know you are just getting here, but I wonder if you've heard anything at all or any talk down there at all about a Chicago connection? We heard from Jeff Flock moments ago -- he was at a scene in Hanover Park, Illinois, just northwest of Chicago, which apparently is the home or the residence to which one of these vehicles was registered. Do you know anything more about that?

ZARRELLA: That is correct. We are not quite clear here, and without trying to speculate too much, yes, in fact, it's believed that one of the two vehicles is registered to someone who lives there. But whether that person is actually one of the three detainees out here, that is what is up for grabs, at least as far as we know. I'm sure authorities know, but we have not gotten any information from them. They're not giving us any information as to whether one of the three detainees is in fact the man who that car is registered to.

HARRIS: Thanks, John. We'll let you go so we can check all that stuff out.

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