Vintage Reportage: A Week After 9/11

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FBI seeks to question nearly 200 over hijackings
By James Vicini, Reuters, 09/18/01

WASHINGTON -- U.S. investigators want to question nearly 200 people who may have information about last week's deadly airline attacks, and are investigating if any of those in custody may have planned other hijackings, federal law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

As the biggest investigation in FBI history completed its first week, the officials said the number of those sought for questioning had expanded as investigators stepped up the search for possible accomplices of the 19 hijackers.

"There is a list of people out there with close to 200 names that we would like to talk to. They are not suspects, but they may have information that is relevant or helpful," one official said.

The number has expanded quickly since Attorney General John Ashcroft, the nation's top law enforcement officer, said Friday the FBI had a list of more than 100 names wanted for questioning in the hijackings of four commercial airplanes last Tuesday.

Two of the planes slammed into New York's World Trade Center, a third into the Pentagon outside Washington and a fourth into a field in rural Pennsylvania. Thousands are feared dead.

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker has said the number of names on the list of those the FBI wants to talk to because they may have information "helpful" to the investigation would fluctuate constantly.

The officials also said the FBI was investigating whether any of the 49 individuals being held for immigration violations in the course of questioning about the attacks or those arrested as material witnesses may have been plotting other hijackings.

In San Antonio, a Saudi-born radiologist had been detained and was being questioned by the FBI after his apartment was raided last week, FBI agents said. He works at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

Health Science Center President Francisco Cigarroa said the FBI seized a computer from the center's main library and copied information from files in the radiology department.

Cigarroa said the physician "was last seen at a radiology conference at 5 p.m. on Monday, September 10" and did not appear for a scheduled hospital assignment the next day when the attacks occurred.

The radiologist's neighbors said they had not seen him in the area for about a week before the attacks. He has been employed at the medical school since 1997.

The FBI would not say whether he was suspected of being connected to two men who are in custody in New York after they were removed from an Amtrak train in Fort Worth, Texas, last week carrying box cutters and a large amount of cash.

The train was headed for San Antonio, and agents said the box cutters were similar to those believed to have been used by hijackers in the attacks.

The federal law enforcement officials said the FBI remained interested in the two men, who gave their names to police in Texas as Ayub Ali Khan, 51, and Mohammed Jaweed Azmath, 47. They were flown to New York for questioning, they said.

Investigators also remained interested in the first man who was arrested last week on a material witness warrant, the officials said.

The man, of Middle Eastern descent, has not been identified. He initially had been stopped by police at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York with a fake pilots license.

Another person flown to New York for questioning had been held in Minnesota, the officials said.

That man was detained Aug. 17 for immigration violations after he aroused suspicions by seeking to buy time on a flight simulator for jetliners at a Minnesota flight school, despite a lack of experience or skills, they said.

© Copyright 2001 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing, Inc.