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Response to Terror

Authorities' Dragnet Snags More Suspects

Arrests: Bail is denied for a security guard whose phone number was found in the car of a suspected hijacker.

September 27, 2001|ERIC LICHTBLAU and JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — As authorities rounded up more suspects Wednesday in the terrorism probe, prosecutors successfully argued against bail for a Virginia security guard whose phone number was found scrawled on a map inside an alleged hijacker's car.

Mohamed Abdi was arrested this week on a check-forgery charge. Investigators want to find out why his phone number and a variation of his first name were written on a Washington map that was found the day after the attacks inside a car found parked at Dulles International Airport near Reston, Va.

Also found in the car, federal authorities disclosed in a court filing, were four drawings of the cockpit of a Boeing 757 airplane, a cashier's check made out to a flight school in Phoenix and a box-cutter--the same type apparently used by the hijackers.

The 1988 Toyota found at the airport was registered to Nawaf Alhamzi, a former resident of San Diego and Lemon Grove, Calif., whom authorities have identified as one of the five hijackers on the 757 that departed from Dulles and was crashed into the Pentagon.

The cockpit drawings, the maps of Washington and New York, and other items found in Alhamzi's car offer further insight into the meticulous planning behind the terrorist attacks.

In other developments in the wide-ranging investigation, authorities on Wednesday arrested 10 people out of about 20 who have been charged in recent days with using fraudulent documents to obtain licenses to haul hazardous material. Authorities allege that most of those charged got their credentials from a Pennsylvania examiner who allegedly sold the licenses without making drivers take a test.

Authorities have hinted that some of the bogus license-holders might have links to the hijackers, but no specific evidence of an actual terrorist plot has emerged.

Meanwhile, the number of people taken into custody for immigration violations in the terrorism investigation grew from 98 to 112. At least 250 others are being detained on other allegations. But no one in the United States has been charged with involvement in the attacks.

The fast pace of arrests has spurred protests from American Muslims and civil liberties groups who charge that the Justice Department is rounding up many people of Middle Eastern descent who may have no connection to the hijackings.

The U.S. attorney in New York City, Mary Jo White, put out an unusual statement Wednesday saying that Dr. Al-Badr Al-Hazmi, a San Antonio radiologist who had been jailed for nearly two weeks in the investigation, "was not and is not a subject of this investigation."

In Alexandria, Va., an attorney for Abdi said in court Wednesday that his client did not know anything about the hijackings and had no idea why his name and phone number were in Alhamzi's car.

Defense attorney Joseph Bowman said Abdi, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia who was arrested this week on unrelated charges of check-forging, simply had "his name found in an unfortunate place."

FBI Agent Kevin W. Ashby testified that when he pressed Abdi to explain why his name was on the hijackers' map, the defendant said he gave his car to the Salvation Army in 1999 and that he might have left the map behind. But Ashby testified that Abdi didn't have that phone number in 1999.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert Spencer, said that Abdi is an essential witness in the case and, hinting at a broader role, said he "may be more" than that.

When Abdi was arrested this week, investigators found in his possession a copy of an article about Ahmed Ressam, the convicted terrorist whose plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport was thwarted in 1999 when he was caught at the U.S.-Canada border.

The Ressam article found on Abdi has interested investigators, as has the fact that he once worked for an airline food company. But a law enforcement source cautioned that investigators are uncertain whether Abdi might have been connected to the hijackers.

"We just don't know on this one," said the official, who asked not to be identified. "If you look at his profile--he has kids, he's Somali, he's been here for a long time--he just doesn't seem to fit very well with the the profile of any of these other guys [in the hijackings]."

Spencer argued in court Wednesday against setting Abdi free on bond while his check-forging case is heard. Even though the defendant has four children in the United States, Spencer said that "the pressure on him to abscond will be incredible."

U.S. Magistrate Welton Curtis Sewell agreed, and ordered Abdi held without bond.

*

Times staff writers Robert Rosenblatt, Megan Garvey and H.G. Reza contributed to this report.

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