Ashcroft said the government believes three to six terrorists were aboard each of four planes hijacked yesterday. He said the hijackers were armed with knives and boxcutters.
The terrorists were “pilots trained in the U.S.,” Ashcroft said, and the government has received “credible evidence” that the White House and Air Force One were targets in yesterday’s attacks.
Agents from the FBI are working with officials from the National Transportation Safety Board to find the cockpit voice and data recorders at each crash site that could contain information about what occured prior to the deadly crashes.
FBI investigators at the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. said they had recovered parts of the fuselage of a hijacked Boeing 757 airplane that crashed into the building yesterday.
The plane, American Airlines Flight 77, was commandeered on its way from nearby Dulles Airport to Los Angeles. There were 64 people on board.
Meanwhile, investigators in rural Pennsylvania today combed through the wreckage of hijacked United Airlines Flight 93. The Boeing 757 crashed into a wooded area 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh — the only one of yesterday’s hijacked planes not to hit a U.S. landmark.
That plane, carrying 45 people, was scheduled to fly from Newark to San Francisco.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said he believes the attacks were orchestrated by Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden, who has been suspected of participating in other terrorist activity, such as the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
“Everything is pointing in the direction of Osama bin Laden,” Hatch, a top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters.
But Justice Department Spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said it was far too early to make that assertion.
“I don’t think everyone in Congress has enough information to make those assumptions,” she said.
Investigation in Boston
Heavily-armed FBI agents and police in Boston today removed one person from a downtown hotel, according to wire and television reports.
FBI Director Robert Muller said no arrests were made anywhere in the investigation, but said some people were detained over their immigration status.
A team of FBI agents have concentrated efforts in Boston, where two 767 aircraft were hijacked yesterday. The planes, which took off from Boston’s Logan Airport, slammed into each of the twin towers of The World Trade Center within 20 minutes of each other.
Law enforcement officials told the Associated Press they believed one of the rooms in Boston’s Westin-Copley Hotel may have been used by one of the hijackers.
Both World Trade Center towers ultimately collapsed from the heavy damage caused by the impact.
Earlier today, Maine Gov. Angus King said two people considered suspects in the Boston hijackings flew to that city from Portland, Maine, the Associated Press reports.
King said the suspects used New Jersey driver’s licenses and left behind a rental car that has been impounded. Cigarette butts found near the car will be tested for DNA, police say.
“This information appears to open up a series of leads that I’m sure will help to identify … the attackers,” King said. Maine’s FBI Chief Jim Osterrieder declined to comment.
Authorities at Logan Airport said they received no unusual communications from either American Airlines Flight 11, which left Boston yesterday at 7:59 a.m. with 92 people aboard, or United Airlines Flight 175, which left at 8:14a.m. carrying 65 people.
“Everything seemed normal when they left Logan,” Joseph Lawless, public safety director at the Massachusetts Port Authority, told reporters. “We don’t know how the hijackers accomplished what they did.”
“We consider ourselves as secure, if not more secure, than any other airport in the United States,” he added.