WASHINGTON (AP) The FBI released photos yesterday of the 19 suspected suicide hijackers with a plea for citizens to help with identities of some that are still in doubt. Director Robert Mueller said some attackers had been linked to Osama bin Laden”s network.
Separately, more arrests were made of Middle Eastern men who obtained bogus licenses to haul hazardous materials. The FBI said those men were not connected to the hijackers, who crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
For the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks that left nearly 7,000 dead, the FBI said there were links between the hijackers and accused terrorist Osama bin Laden, called the primary suspect in the plot.
The FBI isn”t certain about the identities of all the hijackers.
“It is our hope that the release of these photos will prompt others who may have seen the hijackers to contact the FBI with any information they may have that would be helpful to the investigation,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The release of the photos, which come from passports, driver”s licenses and other documents identified with the hijackers, marked a change for authorities, who until now have kept them under wraps so that potential witnesses and others shown the photos get a fresh look at the men.
FBI Director Mueller said the FBI believes the names and photographs match those on the manifests of the hijacked planes. But questions remain about whether those are the true names of the hijackers.
“What we are currently doing is determining whether, when these individuals came to the United States, these were their real names or they changed their names for use with false identification in the United States,” said Mueller.
He said there was evidence that one or more of the hijackers had had contacts with al-Qaida, the network associated bin Laden. He declined to be more specific.
Some of the names have slightly different spellings and others have additional names added, compared with the list released by the FBI on Sept. 14.
At least four of the identities released Sept. 14 have been challenged by people with the same or similar names.
Saudi Arabia Embassy officials, for example, have said that a Saudi electrical engineer named Abdulaziz Alomari _ the same name as one of the alleged hijackers on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon _ had his passport and other papers stolen in 1996 in Denver when he was a student, and reported the theft to police there at the time.
The FBI director said there was some evidence that “one or more” of the hijackers was related.
Amid fears that terrorists could strike with chemical or biological weapons, investigators continued to scour the country for individuals who unlawfully obtained licenses to drive trucks hauling hazardous materials.
Twenty Middle Eastern men have been charged with obtaining bogus licenses 18 were arrested Wednesday and Thursday and two were still at large, officials said.
Mueller said the 20, charged in a license scam uncovered in Pennsylvania, have not been linked to the Sept. 11 attacks but investigators are looking for people who have obtained licenses “under suspicious circumstances.”
“We”re under a heightened state of alert,” said Mueller.
Meanwhile, in Detroit, a federal grand jury indicted three men, including two arrested at a Detroit house and a third whose alias appeared on documents found in a raid as agents searched for a man on the FBI”s watch list.