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Investigation stretches across the globe

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At least four of the 19 suspected hijackers implicated in the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States trained at camps in Afghanistan run by suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, an intelligence source familiar with the federal investigation said Saturday.

The source also said that "most" of the hijackers had connections to al Qaeda, the network run by bin Laden. Previously, sources had named three alleged hijackers with connections to al Qaeda.

The latest links uncovered by federal investigators solidify the Bush administration's belief that bin Laden was behind the attacks in which four commercial U.S. jets were hijacked and crashed. Two jets crashed into the World Trade Center, another jet hit the Pentagon and a fourth plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

With the probe intensifying, investigators are closing in on a small circle of men with links to al Qaeda, the sources said. None of the men are in custody, and sources said investigators are not yet ready to name anyone for indictment.

Investigators say they also continue to believe that Mohamed Atta, whom they say piloted American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower of the World Trade Center, was a "ringleader" in carrying out the plot in the United States -- and that the other 18 hijackers were "foot soldiers."

In other developments:

-- In Detroit, two men from Morocco arrested in a raid by FBI agents pleaded not guilty in federal court Friday to charges of fraud and misuse of identification documents. Karim Koubriti, 23, and Ahmed Hannan, 33, were arraigned a day after being indicted by a federal grand jury. They were charged with having false immigration papers and a false Social Security card.

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U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft unveils the latest evidence in the September 11 hijackings. CNN's Kelli Arena reports (September 28)

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Police raids around Europe are exposing a suspected terrorist network with links to Osama bin Laden. CNN's Diana Muriel reports (September 28)

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Another man, who still is at large, was also arraigned Friday for fraud and false identification. No plea was entered in his absence.

A third man, Youssef Hmimssa, was arrested Friday in Iowa and has been held at the Linn County Jail in Cedar Rapids.

-- Prosecutors at an extradition hearing Friday said an Algerian pilot arrested in London instructed four of the hijackers involved in the attacks on New York and Washington. Lotfi Raissi, 27, was detained last week following the attacks. He was re-arrested Friday on an international arrest warrant originated in the United States.

Raissi took flight-simulator training with suspected hijacker Hani Hassan Hanjour in Mesa, Arizona, as recently as June at Sawyer Aviation, an official at the flight school told CNN. British prosecutors said there's a videotape of Raissi and Hanjour flying to Phoenix -- authorities say they flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon on September 11.

But despite that connection, sources said Raissi is believed to be a mid-level player and by no means a mastermind of the terrorist plan. Judge Nicholas Evans ordered that Raissi should remain in custody and appear before the court again on October 5.

Richard Egan, Raissi's defense lawyer, said his client rejected the allegations.

Raissi also is wanted in the United States on charges of giving false information in connection with his application for a pilot's license, including a failure to declare he had a previous conviction for theft and that he had sustained knee surgery.

-- The six Algerians arrested this week in Spain were taken Friday to the National Court in Madrid, which handles cases of terrorism. Those arrested are linked by authorities to bin Laden.

Earlier this week, the government said the six Algerians arrested in Spain belong to a terrorist cell called the Salafist Group for Call and Combat. That group is on the list of 27 terror-related entities whose assets were frozen by the Bush administration this week. The men are suspected of helping to prepare attacks on U.S. targets in Europe, the Spanish government said.

Two of the men were taken before an investigating magistrate at the court shortly before 2 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT) on Friday for questioning, officials said. All six are expected to be charged with belonging to an armed band.

Sources said Atta, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are tied to al Qaeda. Almihdhar and Alhazmi were both on American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. Atta and two other suspected hijackers were part of a terrorist cell in Hamburg, Germany.

But investigators maintain that none of the named hijackers or their accomplices in the United States is thought to be major players in the overall plot.

Intelligence sources said they are almost 100-percent certain that no high-level person was ever in the United States to help lead the attacks. These sources said this is a change in terror tactics, one that makes it harder for law enforcement to trace who's involved.

Sources said Mustafa Ahmed -- described as a key figure in the funding operation of al Qaeda -- is drawing special interest. Atta on September 4 sent a package to Ahmed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Investigators believe the package contained excess funds from the operation.

-- Investigators have recovered three copies of the same letter belonging to suspected terrorists aboard three of the four passenger jets hijacked during the September 11 attacks against the United States, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Friday.

"These three documents, this letter, is clear evidence linking the hijackers on the three separate flights on September 11," said Ashcroft, who added that the letters provided instructions to be followed before and during the attacks, as well as Islamic prayers

Terror web unraveling in Europe

There is mounting evidence in Europe of a terrorist network with close links to bin Laden.

A series of police raids and more than 20 arrests around the Continent in recent days have shed more light on alleged links between groups of terrorists at work, from the Netherlands to Spain.

Key figures thought to have controlled the cells have been arrested in Belgium, the United Kingdom and the UAE.

Notebooks seized by Spanish police in raids in several cities reveal direct links to London and other European capitals.

The six men arrested in Spain were found with equipment that could be used to forge credit cards and other documents. They're believed to be what investigators call "sleeper activists."

The key to breaking the network may have been the July arrest in Dubai, UAE, of a man called Djamel Begal.

During interrogation in Dubai, sources said, Begal told authorities that attacks on American interests were being planned. The targets mentioned were the American embassy in Paris and the U.S. consulate in Marseilles.

According to the same sources, Begal also gave investigators information about a contact in the Netherlands. It's a lead that's believed to have resulted in four arrests in Rotterdam on September 13.

Despite the more than 20 arrests in seven European countries, authorities have said many more members of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat -- and its associate group, Takfir Wal Hijra -- may still be active.

-- CNN correspondents Susan Candiotti, Kelli Arena, Eileen O'Connor and Diana Muriel contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 


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