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Stolen identities { September 21 2001 }

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Friday, 21 September, 2001, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK

FBI probes hijackers' identities

The FBI has said that the identities of some of its list of 19 hijackers behind last week's devastating attacks are in doubt.
It believes that some of the hijackers used false identities, possibly even names of people who are still alive, which could significantly complicate the manhunt.

In another development, US police arrested a man with the same name as a man with ties to suspected terrorist mastermind, Osama Bin Laden.

Nabil Al-Marabh, one of nearly 200 names on a wanted list drawn up by the Bureau, was detained just outside Chicago.

He was the original target of a raid on a house in Detroit, Michigan, where police instead found three men allegedly in possession of airport diagrams.

All three have been arrested and charged.

The FBI list of those wanted in relation to last week's devastating attacks includes suspects, possible associates of these suspects, and potential witnesses.

At least two people being held as material witnesses to the attacks were brought before a federal judge in Manhattan on Thursday in a closed hearing, said law enforcement sources.

Officials say four people are being held as material witnesses, but have not confirmed whether all four appeared in court.

In a setback to the investigation, the FBI confirmed that the black box cockpit voice recorder from the Pentagon attack is too badly damaged to be of any use.

Arabic appeal

As part of the massive inquiry to track down suspects and their acquaintances, the FBI has appealed for the help of Arabic speakers in translating documents and communications.

Hundreds of people have reportedly responded to the appeal from the Detroit area, which has the country's highest concentration of Arab Americans.

"The Arabic-American community and others immediately overwhelmed our telephone switchboard," said FBI director Robert Mueller, expressing his thanks to a community which has reported numerous incidents of harassment since last week's attacks.

Farsi and Pashtu speakers are also being sought and computer software experts have been called in to work on encrypted messages.

It is thought that those who carried out the attacks used computers in public libraries to leave messages for each other either by e-mail or through pre-arranged websites.

American financial regulators also say they are pursuing leads into whether those behind the attacks may have used their inside knowledge to trade in shares in the airline, insurance and banking sectors, potentially making millions of dollars.


But there is growing confusion as the bureau starts investigating the possibility that some of the suspected hijackers used fake identities of people who may still be alive.

Saudi Arabians are said to be outraged by the publication of names of citizens who they claim have since been located, and may have had their identity papers stolen.

One of those named, Abdelaziz al-Omari, is believed to be a pilot who crashed a plane into the World Trade Center's North Tower.

But the Saudis say Mr al-Omari is alive and well and working as an electrical engineer. He says his passport was stolen in Denver, Colorado, in 1995.

Saudi officials have reportedly said it is possible that another three people whose names appear on the list are also alive.

Correspondents say that such revelations can only complicate the already immensely difficult task of establishing the background and connections of the attackers.

Government backing

The US Attorney-General, John Ashcroft - who is heading the main investigation - has said he believes certain unnamed foreign governments assisted those attackers.

It is pretty clear that the networks that conduct these kind of events are harboured, supported, sustained and protected by a variety of foreign governments," he said.

Mr Ashcroft has also disclosed that the authorities are looking into whether other flights - apart from the four that crashed last Tuesday - had been targeted for hijacking.

He said the FBI was investigating whether mechanical failure may have thwarted the hijacking of a fifth plane on the day of the attacks.

Agents are looking into an American Airlines flight which was due to leave Boston for Los Angeles on 11 September, but was cancelled at the last minute for technical reasons.

The FBI is particularly keen to trace a number of men with Arabic sounding names who are believed to have left the plane when the flight was cancelled, and failed to rebook their seats when it eventually went back into service.

The authorities also believe they may have foiled an attempt to hijack a United Airlines flight from San Antonio in Texas to Denver, Colorado.

Four men of Middle Eastern origin reportedly bought seats on the flight.

A Saudi medical student has been taken into custody and flown to New York for questioning, while three other men are being sought by detectives.

Two other Arabs were arrested on a train heading to San Antonio. The authorities say they were carrying hair dye, thousands of dollars in cash, and the type of knives believed to have been used by hijackers on the other flights.

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