WASHINGTON (AP) Federal authorities have charged the first person with aiding the terrorist hijackers, according to court documents released yesterday. The number of people arrested or detained in the wide-ranging investigation grew to 352.
Herbert Villalobos was charged in federal court in suburban Virginia with aiding one of the suspected hijackers to fraudulently obtain a Virginia identification card a month before the Sept. 11 attacks.
A second man who aided with the I.D.”s is cooperating and was not charged, prosecutors said. The court records disclosed as many as five of the hijackers got Virginia cards in the month before the attacks.
Meanwhile, the terrorism investigation proceeded on several fronts.
Attorney General John Ashcroft disclosed that 352 people have been arrested or detained in the investigation and an additional 392 people were being sought for questioning about the attacks in New York and Washington.
“We think they have information that could be helpful to the investigation,” the attorney general told lawmakers.
The Federal Aviation Administration grounded farm crop dusters another day for fear they could be used in a biological or chemical attacks a ban that was being lifted at midnight and also considered asking airports and airlines to take new precautions with their own workers.
The FAA said it was considering requiring that the workers” identifications be verified, followed by new checks of employment histories and possible criminal backgrounds.
The order on background checks would affect tens of thousands of airport workers who have access to secure locations in airports, people such as baggage handlers, food service workers and mechanics.
Initially, FAA officials said the order had been given. But late yesterday, the agency said it was still considering the idea and hadn”t formally acted. The agency has asked airports and airlines to make sure that identification badges used by employees with secure access are valid.
In Florida, court records in Broward County showed one of the 19 hijack suspects was wanted on an arrest warrant at the time of the attacks.
A bench warrant was issued June 4 for Mohamed Atta for failing to appear in court on a charge of driving without a license. Atta”s Florida driver”s license was revoked on Aug. 23.
“There”s over 200,000 warrants in the system,” county sheriff”s spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright said. “So naturally, you”re going to make sure you”re going out and getting those wanted for murder. This is not one that”s going to jump out at you.”
In Virginia, an FBI affidavit filed in federal court alleged that as many as five hijackers Hani Hanjour, Salem Al-Hamzi, Majed Moqed, Ahmed Saleh Alghamdi and Abdulaziz Alomari went to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Arlington, Va., on Aug. 2.
All five were at the office that day to “conduct transactions relating to Virginia identification cards,” the affidavit said.
The affidavit alleges that Villalobos and a second man his identity not revealed because he is a confidential witness signed identity papers for the hijackers.