WASHINGTON -- Federal authorities are gathering evidence that suggests a small network of Islamic men helped fund and protect some of the 19 suicide attackers by providing cash, documents and possibly even safe houses, a high-ranking law enforcement official said Wednesday.
The official added that among the handful of individuals
arrested so far, three are receiving particular scrutiny: a man arrested
on immigration charges in Minnesota last month and two others pulled from
a train in Texas on the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist
Authorities also are interested in the prior activities
and associates of a physician arrested in San Antonio, Texas, who also is
in federal custody.
Officials said they think that the two men on
the train, Ayub Ali Khan and Mohammed Jaweed Azmath, were headed to San
Antonio to meet with Dr. al-Badr al-Hazmi. The source also said that FBI
and CIA intelligence officials were advised in August that as many as 200
Islamics with terrorist leanings were slipping into this country and
planning "a major assault on the United States."
passed on by the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, cautioned that it
had picked up indications of a "large-scale target" in the United States
and that Americans would be "very vulnerable," the official
How U.S. authorities reacted to the warning is not known, but
the official said the advisory linked the information "back to Afghanistan
and Osama bin Laden."
"There was a connection there," he
Attorney General John Ashcroft has said that authorities
suspect that more airplanes were going to be hijacked, and that other
co-conspirators -- possibly handlers and associates of the 19 suicide
attackers -- remain at large.
Mindy Tucker, spokesperson for the
Justice Department, said Wednesday that "we believe there are associates
of the hijackers that have connections to the terrorist network that are
present in the United States."
Other law enforcement authorities
said such logistical support is typical within many Islamic terrorist
Some participants help others slip unnoticed from city to
city, and country to country, by providing them with fake or fraudulent
passports, cash gained through bank- and credit-card fraud, and safe
havens in their homes or in apartments rented under aliases, the
On the morning that the Trade Center towers were
destroyed, Habib Zacarias Moussaoui was in a Minnesota jail on an
Immigration and Naturalization Service violation. According to one jailer,
Moussaoui saw the disaster on television, and then stood and
Moussaoui's parents were born in Morocco, and he is a
French citizen, born in the southern town of St. Jean de Luz in May 1968,
according to an official at the French embassy in London. It was reported
earlier that he was a French Algerian.
According to press reports,
Moussaoui earned vocational degrees in automotive mechanics. On his
university application, he expressed particular interest on his university
application in learning business English so he could travel and "work in
an international business."
French officials confirmed that
Moussaoui was on a special immigration watch list because of his suspected
ties to Islamic terrorists and because he had made several trips to
Moussaoui spent at least three years in Britain in the
late 1990s, according to French officials. He came to the French embassy
in London in September 2000, and had his French passport extended. At the
time, he described himself as unemployed and said he had lived at several
addresses in the suburbs of London.
By this year, however, he was
able to afford to journey to the United States and begin flying lessons.
He was arrested Aug. 17 after the staff at a flight school grew concerned
about his offer of thousands of dollars in cash for instruction in how to
fly jumbo jets and his lack of interest in learning to take off or land
The two men authorities removed from the train in Fort Worth,
Texas -- Khan, 51, and Azmath, 47 -- also had a large sum of money with
them -- $20,000 in cash, the official said -- as well as box cutters
similar to those allegedly used by the hijackers on at least one of the
The men had boarded a flight in Newark, N.J.,
that was bound for San Antonio on the morning of the attacks. But the
flight was diverted to St. Louis after the World Trade Center was hit, and
Khan and Azmath then took an Amtrak train to Texas.
The train was
stopped in Fort Worth on a routine check for drugs, and Khan and Azmath
were detained because of the materials and cash they were carrying. The
train's final destination was San Antonio.
In San Antonio, federal
authorities are continuing to scrutinize al-Hazmi, a 34-year-old Saudi
physician. He was arrested after a search of his home and the medical
school where he was finishing a five-year residency in
Officials of the University of Texas Health Science
Center, where al-Hazmi studied, said he did not show up for his rounds on
the day after the attacks, but they added that that was not noteworthy
since he may have been studying for an important test.
Wednesday, owners of fitness clubs in Florida and Maryland said several of
the suicide hijackers had worked out in their gyms.
"They may have
been told to go get as strong as they could get in case of body conflict
or a fight," said Jim Woolard, who owns eight World Gyms in Palm Beach and
Ziad Jarrah, a hijacker on the plane that crashed
in Pennsylvania, made no secret of his aim: to learn how to
On May 6, he signed up for a two-month membership, later
extended to four, at the U.S. 1 Fitness Center in Dania Beach, north of
"He told me that he was from Germany, that he was visiting,"
said Roxanne Caputo, in charge of sales. "He would come in every day,
Jarrah took classes in various combat techniques,
including full-contact boxing, kick-boxing and the Brazilian martial art
of Kopthaikido, Caputo said. He made two cash payments of $500 each to
owner Burt Rodriguez to get some private one-on-one
Rodriguez recalled that his former pupil was
soft-spoken, physically fit and a diligent learner, but that he lacked the
"spark" of a born combatant.
"I've seen a lot of guys with the
gloves on, and he was the kind who just wanted to survive," Rodriguez
During 17 lessons with the Cuban-born instructor (Jarrah
missed the three final sessions he had paid for), he was taught how to
grapple, defend himself in close quarters and protect himself from
somebody wielding a knife or stick.
A hijacker could have used
those same skills to overwhelm a flight crew or fight with airline
passengers, his former teacher acknowledged with regret.
yourself, you obviously learn how to attack, which is the other side of
the equation," Rodriguez said. "If he wasn't one of the pilots, he would
have done quite well in thwarting the passengers from
In the summer, five hijackers on the two planes that
crashed into the World Trade Center -- Mohamed Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi,
Wail M. Alshehri, Waleed M. Alshehri and Satam Al Suqami -- purchased
one-month memberships at Woolard's gyms. Atta and al-Shehhi paid to work
out at the Delray Beach gym; the others in Boynton Beach.
have been doing it for social reasons, or to get strong for the upcoming
battles," Woolard said of the men.
Five men identified as the
hijackers of the plane that slammed into the Pentagon also worked out in
the week before the attacks. While living in a rundown motel on the
outskirts of suburban Laurel, Md., they showed up in various groupings
every day from Sept. 2-6 at a nearby Gold's Gym. Three of them -- Khalid
al-Midhar, Majed Moqed and Hani Hanjour -- paid $30 in cash for a
week-long membership, while two others -- Salem and Nawaq Alhamzi-- paid
$10 for each visit.
They spent their time training with weights and
resistance machines, said Gene LaMotta, president and CEO of Gold's Gym.
The fitness counselor said the men had "wads" of cash. And when the
counselor asked if they could translate their Arabic names into English,
Hanjour said his first name meant "warrior."