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9/11 panel: Hijackers may have had utility knives

From Mike M. Ahlers
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Some September 11 hijackers may have been armed with a high-strength, folding metal utility knife rather than a more easily concealed box cutter, according to testimony Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

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Members of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States passed around and examined a Leatherman-style utility knife on the second day of a two-day hearing. Also known as the 9/11 commission, the group is an independent, bipartisan panel investigating the attacks on New York and Washington.

A staff member testified that the hijackers purchased at least two such knives and that they weren't found in belongings the attackers left behind.

Security at the time did not prohibit such a knife on board a plane, but this revelation suggests the hijackers may have had something more formidable than box cutters as weapons.

The commission staff testified that the hijackers developed a plan and practiced it months before the attacks, including test flights to make sure their tactics would work.

The commission did not identify which hijackers had purchased the knives. However, it criticized the Federal Aviation Administration for a policy in which neither the agency nor the airlines were responsible for security.

At the time of the attacks, commission staffers testified, the FAA prohibited passengers from boarding aircraft with knifes having blades longer than 4 inches, tear gas, mace and similar chemicals.

Except for guns, large knives, explosives and incendiaries, carriers and screening contractors were allowed to use "common sense" in determining what was prohibited on planes, the staffers said.

To help screeners before 9/11, the airlines had developed a guide that classified box cutters as restricted, staffers said. But pocket utility knives with less than 4-inch blades were allowed, they said, and the guide provided no instruction on how to distinguish between those knives and box cutters.

A Leatherman Tool Group Inc. spokeswoman Monica Hosler said Tuesday that none of the Portland, Oregon, company's utility knives has featured blades longer than 4 inches.

The FAA's practice of allowing the airlines to use common sense created an environment in which both would deny responsibility in making decisions, the staff testified.

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