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FBI Asking Whether Detainees Planned Other Failed Hijackings

By Dan Eggen
THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

The FBI is investigating whether some people detained as part of the probe into the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center may have been planning other hijackings that somehow went awry, according to law enforcement officials.

The examination so far has centered on five foreign-born men now being questioned by the FBI in New York, all of whom were detained or arrested under circumstances that authorities consider suspicious. In each case, there were similarities to the attacks that the FBI said were committed by 19 suicide hijackers who commandeered four aircraft.

Two men taken off a train in Texas were found with box-cutter knives like those used by some of the hijackers. Another was carrying a pilot’s jacket and suspicious photographs. A fourth tried to breach security at John F. Kennedy International Airport last Thursday with a false pilot’s license in his sock, authorities say.

A fifth man, Habib Zacarias Moussaoui, had been held by immigration officials in Minnesota since Aug. 17 after he tried to get commercial jetliner training at a flight academy near Minneapolis despite a lack of experience or skills. He reportedly was interested in learning to steer airliners, but not in how to land.

U.S. officials stress that their investigation is still in its early stages and it is unclear what roles, if any, the various detainees might have played. But FBI officials said nothing is being ruled out, and that some of the circumstances surrounding the detainees are troubling.

“We are dedicating substantial resources to that very question: Was there more to this plot?” said one senior U.S. government official.

Robert Blitzer, a former FBI counterterrorism official, said the question of whether other attacks were in the works would be central to any investigation like the one now underway.