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Officials Uncover New Clues Related to NYC Bomb Blast

By Malcolm Gladwell and Jim McGee
The Washington Post


Law enforcement officials in New York City have uncovered several promising new clues relating to the cause of Friday's bomb blast in the basement of the World Trade Center.

James M. Fox, an assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Monday that the task force investigating the attack has found one, and possibly two, videotapes showing vehicles and people entering and leaving the parking garage where the blast occured, as well as eye witness accounts of unusual behavior in the garage just before the bomb went off.

One of the tapes came from a camera mounted near one of the garage entrances. The other, which Fox would not confirm actually exists, may have been made by a tourist.

"We have heard some reports about vehicles (entering the garage) that we found quite interesting, and we're following up on that," he said.

Fox also said that the parking attendants in the lot routinely wrote down the license plate numbers of vehicles entering the garage, meaning that investigators may have a means of identifying the vehicles that were there at the time of the attack.

The task force investigating the bombing, which killed five and injured more than 1,000, includes the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the New York Police Department and several other agencies. The FBI transferred equipment from its Washington laboratory to New York, to test and analyze debris from the blast site.

The CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center in Langley, Va., is on full alert, conveying to the FBI information about possible suspects gathered from a myriad from domestic and foreign agencies.

Speaking at a New York news conference Monday, both Fox and New York Police Commisioner Raymond Kelly stressed that their investigation was only in its beginning stages. Investigators still are days from being able to examine the actual bomb site, as construction workers continue working to stabilize the underground structure. Until then, they said, they still are not entirely sure what kind of explosive was used to make the bomb or how the explosives were brought into the garage.

John O'Brien, a BATF spokesman in New York, cautioned in an interview that "we don't know what the explosive material was at this point." Only at the "seat" of the blast, he said, would investigators "be able to find the residue to allow them to say definitively the type of explosive that was used." O'Brien compared the investigation to an "archeological dig."

Fox and Kelly said, however, that after preliminary analysis, investigators had reached several tentative conclusions.

Based on chemical analysis of debris from the perimeter of the blast site, Fox said that the FBI feels fairly confident that the bomb was not made from plastique -- the most sophisticated and powerful of modern explosive material.

If that is the case, then the bomb is likely from the class of older, less powerful explosives like dynamite and TNT. If so, so much explosive material would have been needed to create the enormous 60 foot deep and in some cases 200 foot wide crater that it would have had to have been brought in to the garage in something like a small truck or van. It could not, for instance, have been placed in box or briefcase and left in a corner.

The weight of the explosive necessary for such a blast, Fox said, "would have tested the springs of any vehicle." He said the videotapes would be examined to see if any vehicles coming into the garage appeared heavily laden.

At the same time, he said, the logistics involved in such a quantity of explosives and placing it in a vehicle made it unlikely that one person could have handled the operation alone.

"We've pretty much put the lone bomber idea, the lone zealot, on the back burner," Fox said. "Because of the likely size and amount of the bomb, we could be looking at a terrorist group or a drug cartel angry with the United States."

He also cautioned against attributing too much significance to the fact that no organization claimed responsibility for the blast before it occured, and none of the 40 calls claiming responsibility afterward was deemed credible. In nearly half of all terrorist acts, he said, the perpetrators do not claim responsibility.

Commissioner Kelly said investigators had not discarded the theory that disgruntled employees of the Port Authority -- which owns and operates the World Trade Center -- were responsible.