Secretary of State Colin Powell announced today that Osama bin Laden, a Saudi-born dissident millionaire reportedly in Afghanistan, is a prime suspect in Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Osama bin Laden was linked to the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, and to the attacks on the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998.
Powell told reporters at Thursday’s press conference, “We are looking at those terrorist organizations who have the kind of capacity that would have been necessary to conduct the kind of attack that we saw,” Powell said. When a reporter asked if he was referring to bin Laden, Powell answered, “yes.”
Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters Thursday afternoon that between 12 and 24 hijackers and over 50 accomplices are thought to be involved in Tuesday’s well-financed operation.
Over 4,000 FBI agents and 3,000 assistants are involved in the investigation, making it, as Ashcroft said, “the most massive and intensive investigation ever conducted in America.”
Ashcroft also said that at least two hijackers were trained at a U.S. flight school in Florida. Authorities are investigating two former students of Huffman Aviation school in Venice, Florida, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. The Miami Herald reported that Atta was a suspect who died on the American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the World Trade Center.
Although no arrests have been made, at least a half-dozen people have been detained in Massachusetts and Florida on immigration charges and were questioned about their possible relationship to the hijackers.
Government officials had been monitoring bin Laden and his associates over the last several months and had compiled a “watch list” for immigration officials to prevent his associates from entering the United States. Immigration officials later confirmed that at least two of those men associated with Osama bin Laden had already entered the country.
An unnamed immigration official said that one of these men, who used a Saudi passport when he entered the U.S. in June, had also been a passenger on the flight that slammed into the Pentagon. Another immigration official denied that their association with bin Laden would necessarily confirm their guilt or involvement in the attacks.
Another group reportedly entered the U.S. through Canada, into Portland, Maine and then traveled to Boston. Investigators are relying on flight passenger lists, pay telephone records, phone reports from passengers on the hijacked flights, and evidence found in a rental car at Logan Airport in Boston.
The State Department has been communicating with the government in Pakistan, which has promised to provide U.S. officials with information on bin Laden.