ATTACK AFTERMATH / A NATION SEARCHES Shelley Murphy, Ralph Ranalli, Stephen Kurkjian, John Donnelly, Michael Rezendes, Wayne Washington, Sally Jacobs, Farah Stockman, and Judy Rakowsky of the Globe Staff contributed to this story. Globe correspondents Broward Liston and Fran Riley also assisted.;12 SUSPECTS EYED IN HIJACKINGS; GRIM SEARCH FOR VICTIMS GOES ON 3 MEN TRAINED TO BE PILOTS ARE KEY TO PROBE
BYLINE: By Kevin Cullen and Matthew Brelis, Globe Staff
SECTION: NATIONAL/FOREIGN; Pg. A1
Three men who were trained as pilots have emerged as the central figures in the hijacking of two Boston-to-Los Angeles flights that were deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center towers.
The trio are among a dozen men with Arabic surnames who were the focus yesterday of the massive investigation here trying to determine who commandeered the two Boeing 767s that formed half of the biggest terrorist attack ever against Americans.
Sources close to the investigation said that investigators had recovered from a car rented by a suspected hijacker a so-called "ramp pass," which gives the holder access to restricted areas at Logan Airport. Evidence also suggests the rental car was used to case the airport during the week leading up to the attack.
As investigators retraced the steps of the men, using an extensive list of Visa credit card receipts, evidence pointing to the plot having its roots in the Middle East was piling up.
The names of the 12 men with Arabic surnames were not on a passenger list made public yesterday by American Airlines and United Air Lines, whose planes were hijacked Tuesday morning. But The Boston Globe obtained the complete list, and law enforcement sources confirmed that they were focusing on up to a dozen of the Arabic men as they piece together how the two Boston flights were hijacked.
One of the suspects, Mohamed Atta, 33, is a Saudi national who trained as an airline pilot. The other two, Waleed Alshehri and Marwan Alshehri, are believed to be brothers from the United Arab Emirates, and are also trained to fly heavy commercial aircraft like the ones that were commandeered and flown into the World Trade Center towers in New York.
Both Atta, who attended a flight school in Florida last year, and Waleed Alshehri received training that would have made them capable of flying American Airlines Flight 11 into the first of the two towers that later collapsed, killing what officials assume will be thousands of office workers and hundreds of their would-be rescuers.
Marwan Alshehri, who attended flight school with Atta, was capable of flying United Air Lines Flight 175 into one of the towers, investigators believe.
Atta caught Flight 11 off a connecting flight from Portland, Maine. Two bags with Atta's name tags were on the Portland flight, but did not get transferred in time to be loaded on the Los Angeles-bound flight that left Logan Airport at 7:59 a.m., about 45 minutes before it smashed into the World Trade Center tower.
Acccording to the manifest, Atta was assigned seat 8D in business class on Flight 11, directly across the aisle from Hollywood producer David Angell and his wife, Lynn, who were in seats 8A and 8B respectively. Seated next to Atta in seat 8G was Abdul Alomari. The two remaining seats in Row 8, H and J, were unassigned.
The passenger list for Flight 175 shows that Marwan Alshehri got on the plane that left Boston and slammed into one of the Manhattan skyscrapers 15 minutes after Flight 11.
A Florida man, Charles Voss, yesterday said that Atta and a man whom he knew only as Marwan had stayed at his home last year while they obtained flight training at a Florida flight school. Voss, who used to work at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Fla., told the Associated Press that the FBI agents who interviewed him Tuesday told him that the two men who stayed at his home were involved in the hijackings. Azzan Ali, a student at Huffman Aviation, said that Marwan Alshehri had stayed with Voss.
Voss said the FBI told him that the two men who had stayed with him last year had been traced to a car found at Logan Airport. Law enforcement sources told the Globe that authorities had recovered from the car a a ramp pass issued by the Massachusetts Port Authority.
Waleed Alshehri also held a commercial pilot's license and was rated to fly large, multi-engine aircraft.
On Tuesday night, Massachusetts State Police detectives and the FBI seized a Mitsubishi sedan that a Hampden County law enforcement official said one of the suspected hijackers rented in Springfield and that was parked in a Logan Airport parking lot. When they reviewed videotape of the parking lot's surveillance camera, investigators found that the car had entered the lot up to five times between last Wednesday and Tuesday, according to sources. Those sources said the constant presence of the car over the last week suggested that the terrorists had scouted the airport, or performed dry runs for the daring attack.
Sources familiar with the investigation said the ramp pass, found in the Mitsubishi sedan, gives holders access to restricted parts of the airport.
Sources said at least five one-way tickets for the United flight and at least two similar tickets for the American flight were purchased at the last minute by suspected hijackers. The sources said at least four of the tickets were purchased with the same Visa card.
One state official who spoke on condition of anonymity expressed deep regret that airline officials did not react more cautiously regarding the ticket purchases.
"That is something that should jump out at you," said the state official. "One-way ticket, purchased by Arabic gentlemen; that should have been red-flagged."
One source said the car had been parked at least "four to five" times at Logan since Sept. 5.
Meanwhile, authorities in Florida were investigating the possibility that two suspected terrorists, including Waleed Alshehri, prepared for the attacks on New York and Washington while at Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University in Daytona Beach - one as a student and one while working as an instructor.
In a statement yesterday, university officials said they are cooperating with the FBI and other investigative agencies and would provide no further information.
But the Globe found Waleed Alshehri's name on a list of 1997 Embry graduates. The FBI Tuesday evening searched a Daytona Beach apartment where Alshehri lived during the time he is believed to have attended Embry.
The Globe reported yesterday that inside the suitcase belonging to Atta, investigators found a Saudi passport, an international driver's license, a videotape on how to fly a Boeing 757 and 747, and "some kind of religious cassette tape." Atta has previously held an Egyptian driver's license.
State Police and the FBI spent much of yesterday searching a unit of the Park Inn off Route 9 in Chestnut Hill, where at least two of the hijackers were believed to have stayed the night before the attack. At noon, more than a dozen law enforcement vehicles parked behind the hotel, and officers, some clad in bullet-proof vests and bearing shields, assembled on the third floor of the inn.
The unit of the inn, formerly the Susse Chalet, is under renovation and only a few rooms were occupied, according to one of its managers.
FBI investigators spent about 15 hours in Room 432 of the inn yesterday, painstakingly analyzing and removing evidence, including a recliner as well as several boxes and bags of material. The operation started at 6 a.m., according to other guests at the inn, who returned last night to find they were being moved to other buildings in the complex.
All the guests were moved out of the building except Michael Arnold, of Nantucket, who was staying in the room next to 432 and was allowed to go in and shave last evening.
Arnold had noticed the two men staying in the room next to his, where he said the FBI told him they found a flight schedule and a train schedule. But he said he had not noticed anything unusual about the men.
While authorities were busy retracing the steps of Atta and his suspected co-conspirators, the fluid nature of the investigation was made evident as police aggressively followed any potential lead, sometimes catching up in their dragnet people who simply appeared suspicious to a jumpy public.
In one case, three Arabs, including at least one with the same last name as one of the suspected hijackers, were taken into custody yesterday afternoon at the Westin Copley Place Hotel in a dramatic swoop by FBI agents, State Police detectives, and a heavily armored Boston police SWAT team. Several blocks surrounding the hotel were sealed off, and thousands of curious and nervous bystanders watched the police operation. But within a few hours, the three people who were taken in for questioning had been ruled out as being involved in the hijackings, sources said.
An employee at the Budget Car and Truck Rental office inside the Westin said several Arab guests at the hotel who attempted to rent a car yesterday morning were considered suspicious, prompting the call to police.
At about 3 p.m., Providence police stopped an Amtrak train heading from Boston to Washington, just outside the Providence train station. While police were looking for people wanted for questioning, Providence Police Colonel Richard T. Sullivan said a man taken from the train and arrested for carrying a large knife was not linked to the hijackings.
Within hours of the second plane hitting the twin towers on Tuesday, the FBI was on the phone to Boston police, asking for all their files on licensing of Boston cab drivers and saying they were looking for information on all drivers, past and present, of Arabic descent, according to sources familiar with the investigation. The department's computerized database with the names of about 7,000 people who have been licensed as Boston cab drivers since the mid-1990s was provided. According to one source, the names of "hundred and hundreds" of people of Arabic descent are in the database.
Boston police were told that authorities were not focusing on a particular individual or individuals for the terrorist acts, the officials said. However, the federal authorities said that since the names of several cab drivers with ties to Osama bin Laden had become known after the bombing of the USS Cole, they wanted to check to see if those whose names may come up in this investigation had any similar Boston ties, the officials said.
In Washington, meanwhile, US officials were trying to determine whether the hijackers were linked to the Saudi-born, anti-American terrorist bin Laden.
Asked if the hijackers could belong to other terror groups, one US official said, "Bin Laden's organization is a lot of different groups loosely aligned with him, so sure it's possible. But all the individuals are commonly linked to him."
US officials were sorting through "thousands" of leads yesterday at the FBI, State Department, Defense Department, and various intelligence agencies. A second US official, based in the State Department, said they were also receiving an unusually heavy number of threats against US targets.
"We're sorting out what may be real and what are just copycats," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We're looking at literally thousands of pieces of information, trying to establish one line that more or less makes the most sense."
Search warrants have been executed in states other than Florida, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, but those warrants are sealed because they contain information investigators believe could hinder their pursuit of those responsible for Tuesday's attack, a Justice Department official said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official would not say how many warrants have been issued or identify the other states.
Law enforcement officials have been slow to confirm information reported about the attacks.