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Suspect Had Warned of Plan to Conceal Items on Flights

October 19, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A college student who the FBI believes hid box cutters and other banned items aboard two Southwest Airlines planes had warned government officials he would try to bring forbidden articles onto commercial flights to expose holes in security.

A federal law enforcement official confirmed Saturday that investigators are interviewing Nathaniel T. Heatwole of Greensboro, N.C.

A Bush administration official said the suspected perpetrator last month sent the government an e-mail warning of his intention to conceal suspicious items on six planes and providing dates and locations for the plan.

Federal authorities "reviewed the correspondence and determined this individual did not pose an imminent threat to national security," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Heatwole is a 20-year-old junior at Guilford College in Greensboro, a Quaker college with a history of pacifism and civil disobedience that dates to the Civil War. He is not a Quaker but shares many of the tenets of the religion, including a belief in pacifism, according to a February 2002 interview with the campus newspaper.

An FBI statement said legal proceedings were expected Monday in federal court in Baltimore. Government prosecutors were trying to determine what charges they might bring.

Southwest Airlines maintenance workers found small plastic bags containing box cutters and other items in lavatory compartments on planes in New Orleans and Houston. Notes in the bags "indicated the items were intended to challenge Transportation Security Administration checkpoint security procedures," according to a statement from Southwest Airlines.

Each note also included precise information about where and when the items were placed on board the aircraft, according to a federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. That information has not been made public.

The discovery triggered stepped-up inspections of the entire U.S. commercial air fleet -- roughly 7,000 planes.

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