FBI agents combed Logan airport—the origin of two of the hijacked flights—for evidence early yesterday morning and raided two Boston area hotels yesterday afternoon in a massive operation that shut down much of the downtown area, all in an apparent effort to retrace the last steps of Tuesday’s hijackers.
“We will not stop...We will leave no stone unturned until we have determined who was responsible for these attacks on our freedom,” FBI Director Robert Mueller said yesterday at a Washington press conference.
The FBI convened a special nationwide task force, composed of 4,000 special agents and 3,000 support personnel—including more than 400 lab technicians and forensics experts at the scene of the attack in New York.
The massive investigation stretched from the Canadian border, where officials suspect some of the hijackers entered the country, to Florida, where some of the participants are believed to have learned how to fly commercial jetliners before the attacks. Sealed warrants went out in several other states, officials said. In addition, German police searched at least one location at the request of the FBI.
The FBI has determined the identities of more than a dozen hijackers, several of whom had pilot’s licenses—two of which were registered in Florida.
Authorities detained at least a half dozen people in Massachusetts and Florida on unrelated local warrants and immigration charges and were questioning them about their possible ties to the hijackers. However, no one has yet been charged.
Terrorists And The Hub
Officials confirmed yesterday that two of the suspected hijackers flew to Boston from Portland, leaving behind a rental car with Massachusetts plates. However, it remained unclear how the suspects passed through Logan security, and officials adamantly refused to discuss details of the investigation.
“It does not help efforts to put together a solid, sustainable case...to discuss at this point what facts law enforcement may or may not know,” Acting U.S. Attorney James Farmer said.
FBI officials began to pursue bin Laden’s many ties to the Boston area, where his brothers own property and one of them donated money to Harvard University.
Investigators were also interviewing drivers from a Boston cab company which used to employ two bin Laden associates, one of whom was jailed in Jordan on charges of plotting to blow up a hotel full of Americans and Israelis.
The FBI interviewed drivers of the Boston Cab Co. to investigate whether cab drivers had ties to Logan Airport baggage handlers who may have helped carry out the terrorist plot in New York, former FBI supervisor Robert Fitzpatrick told the Associated Press.
“They could thwart the security by having a baggage handler put the material aboard the plane. That link is being investigated,” he said.
Federal authorities also seized a white Mitsubishi in the garage at Logan Airport that had been rented at an Alamo office just off the airport, said Cheryl Budd, senior vice president for corporate communications for Alamo’s parent company.
Federal investigators confirmed the car contained Arabic-language flight training manuals, and The Boston Globe reported that authorities also found two bags belonging to one of the suspect’s—containing an instructional video on flying commercial airliners, a fuel consumption calculator and a copy of the Koran—that did not make a connecting flight.
In addition, outside Boston, police officers converged on the Park Inn at Chestnut Hill in Newton. Newton police officer Russ Adam said the FBI was conducting an investigation at the hotel, but declined further comment, although news agencies reported that agents found airline paraphernalia and flight-related material at the location.
Juliette N. Kayyem, executive director of the Kennedy School’s domestic preparedness program, said that several factors could have attracted the terrorists to the Boston area.
“Our proximity to the Canadian border and Boston being a big city where people can hide is likely why Boston became the center,” Kayyem said.
Scare In Back Bay
A heavily armed team of FBI agents and Boston police converged on a posh Back Bay hotel yesterday afternoon after an anonymous tip pointed them to suspects on the 16th floor.
The FBI detained three people at the Copley Westin Hotel shortly after noon yesterday, although all had been released by last evening.
At about 12:30 p.m., a heavily armed SWAT team clad in bulletproof gear and helmets entered the building with shields, special entry gear, a battering ram and fiber-optic equipment, which the police used to peak under doors in the hotel. The Boston Police Bomb Squad arrived shortly after 1 p.m., and four Boston ambulances waited outside with lights flashing, including a special tactical response unit with EMTs in bulletproof vests and helmets.
State police and Boston police on motorcycles pushed the crowd first back across the street and then evacuated everyone from the area around the hotel skyscraper.
Officials also evacuated the nearby Copley Place Mall and closed the Boston Public Library and the Prudential Center—which had already posted extra security at its entrances in the wake of Tuesday’s attacks.
At the base of the hotel, hundreds of onlookers waited anxiously at the yellow police lines.
“I keep thinking that at any moment a bomb’s going to come out the side of the building,” onlooker Mark S. Elsmore said, as he looked up at the 36-story glass-shrouded hotel.
Tuesday’s horrific tragedy appeared to have shaken everyone at the scene in Back Bay, from onlookers to emergency personnel.
Boston resident Rubin Toledo and his son, Pablo, showed up at the hotel about an hour into the incident. They stood quietly at the edge of the crowd, waving American flags held high over their heads.
Toledo said Tuesday’s attacks had claimed the life of one of his cousins, Sonia Morales Puopolo, who had been aboard hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center. He said that he hoped any suspects detained yesterday would face swift punishment.
“They’re lucky the FBI got to them before I did,” Toledo said.
Many police wore black bands on their badges to signify respect for their fallen New York colleagues. Likewise, shaken Boston firefighters mourned the more than 300 missing New York firefighters but said they stood ready to offer any possible assistance.
As he laid a hose line outside of the hotel yesterday, firefighter Ed Kelly expressed his regret at Tuesday’s tragedy.
“We’re ready to go if New York asks for help. We’ll do what we can,” he said.
—Material from the Associated Press was used in the compilation of this article.
—Staff writer Garrett M. Graff can be reached at email@example.com.