The fugitives, Said Bahaji of Germany, Zakariya Essabar of Morocco, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh of Yemen, operated out of Hamburg, Germany.
In Washington on Tuesday, Attorney General John Ashcroft and his German counterpart, Otto Schily, announced the cell had existed since at least 1999, and had a base in the United States as well.
“Their connections to the hijackers are extensive,” said Ashcroft. “It is clear that Hamburg served as a central base of operations for these six individuals and their part in the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks.”
Investigators said the fugitives and three of the hijackers were part of the same cell and at one point shared an apartment in Hamburg.
Among the released evidence, German and U.S. investigators have determined:
· Essabar traveled to Florida in February during the times two of the suspected hijackers lived there.
· Suspected lead hijacker Mohammed Atta and Essabar attended the same technical school in Hamburg.
· Essabar and another suspected hijacker both worked at the same Hamburg business in 1998.
· al-Shibh tried to enroll in flight school in Venice, Fla., with the help of the same hijacker.
Attorney General Ashcroft cautioned however, that the three fugitives are not the only wanted suspects.
“I think it would be very misleading for us to indicate that we thought there were only three,” he said.
Ashcroft and Schily told reporters that the suspects fled Germany in the early days of September before Germany issued arrest warrants for them on September 21.
As the investigation continues, the United States and European allies have concluded that Germany was likely the base for the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.
German officials believe the fugitives are now in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The Pakistan government say they have no record of the men entering the country.
Attorney General Ashcroft said, “If we knew where they were, I think we’d go get them. As we’ve observed, the al-Qaida network, we found that individuals involved in one set of terrorist acts frequently move on to develop and to work on the perpetration of others.”
U.S. terrorism investigation moving steadily
The FBI said more than a dozen agents are working in Germany with justice officials on the investigation. The agency also said the intensity surrounding the anthrax cases has not impeded the investigation into the September 11 attacks.
The FBI has arrested more than 800 people, of whom they report ten have a “high probability” of involvement in the terrorist attacks.
Two of the men in custody are Ayub Ali Khan and Mohammed Jaweed Azmath, both Indian, who were arrested on September 12. FBI agents discovered box cutters, similar to those in the hijackings, hair dye and $5,600 in cash between the men raising concerns they were accomplices of the hijackers.
Khan and Azmath lived in New Jersey and worked together at newsstands in the state. Both men were on a flight from Newark to San Antonio on the day of the attacks.
Investigators are testing documents from their apartment for anthrax, after magazines about poison gases and biological weapons were reportedly found there.
The FBI has also arrested their roommate who worked at newsstand in Trenton and lived near the postal facility where letters carrying anthrax were processed.
However, FBI Director Robert Mueller said today investigators have found no links between any of the anthrax leads and the September 11 hijackings.