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America's New War: Federal Agents Uncovering More and More Information

Aired September 20, 2001 - 05:20   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: It is a scene all too familiar in other countries who have faced the price of terrorism and have gone to war. The pictures of the missing or the dead -- family members still trying and still hoping that their lost loved ones will somehow be found and identified.

Brian Palmer is at the scene where rescuers are still working around the clock to find remains or bodies or even survivors. Brian, I'm just wondering - the work is becoming even more dangerous for the workers out there, isn't it?

BRIAN PALMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been dangerous from the start, Carol, but we've just double-checked our numbers. They haven't changed in about 12 hours - 233 bodies recovered, 170 of those identified out of the 5,422 reported missing. No one has been pulled out alive in over a week.

Rescuers, as you've said, still continuing to comb through the site - 2,200 of them in each 12 hour shift - combing through this 16 acre rubble debris pile. They periodically back off to allow heavy machinery in, which comes in and carts out those huge pieces of twisted steel.

Now at some point this search and rescue operation is going to turn into a recovery and a removal operation - essentially the approach and the tools changing. We go from the rescuers on their hands and knees with these small shovels to heavy machinery coming in carting out wreckage by the truckload. Mayor Giuliani trying to prepare people for that moment saying that there's a very, very small chance that survivors could remain.

Now for the relatives of the people who still have missing unaccounted for - there's a family services center just a little bit north and west of here at Pier 34. It's become almost an impromptu shrine - a huge shrine to the missing people with all of the lovely posters of the smiling faces staring down.

They're offering grief counseling services for the relatives and also information about the DNA testing that the medical examiner is conducting. Carol?

LIN: Brian, by "more dangerous for the rescue workers" what I mean is that there are now reports that they might be facing hazardous materials as they dig into the seven stories that are beneath ground.

What are those dangers posed? Do they know what sort of materials they might be facing in their search for survivors?

PALMER: Carol, we've talked to some firefighters and we've talked to some safety officers and what they're telling us now is that, yes, there are concerns about hazardous materials but that that's not their primary concern at this point. One of the main concerns - one of the reasons they haven't actually been able to search the World Trade Center Towers I and II area is because there are huge, jagged pieces of metal.

So the safety officers have come in and they're directing the heavy machinery to pull those down. But as far as asbestos in those and those other materials they're saying that these concerns have been overblown at least to their knowledge. Carol?

LIN: Certainly not -- what hasn't been overblown, though, are some of the structural problems that they're facing in trying to search that area. It abuts landfill which then abuts the Hudson River. And aren't the workers afraid that if they remove too much material from there that's it's an area that could collapse on itself and even collapse onto these workers?

PALMER: Well, that's why they're using fairly traditional search and rescue techniques - the sort of de-layering technique. Now in lots of collapses you have buildings that have just sort of pancaked on one another. In this situation there is more sort of pulverizing than pancaking but they're still going layer by layer from top to bottom rather than going from the bottom under, which would cause even greater instability.

But you're right -- there are pockets. They're still trying to figure out what's what. Carol?

LIN: All right, thank you very much. Brian Palmer reporting live from New York City.

They brought in the original engineer and architect on that project who built that area some 30 years ago to try to figure out what to do to stabilize it.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, they're going to need his help, too.

LIN: You bet.

HARRIS: Let's get to the investigation right now. The FBI may have a big break in its investigation of the attacks. Now this break is both a telling one and a chilling one. "The Los Angeles Times" reports that the FBI has pieced together a phone call made by Madeline Amy Sweeney. Now she was a flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 11 and she made this call just before that airliner hit the World Trade Center's north tower -- that was the first collapse -- I'm sorry -- the first impact. Now calmly, we're told, Sweeney tells a colleague back at Boston's Logan Airport, which is where the plane had departed that the plane had been commandeered. Then she says that one hijacker cut a passenger's throat and she thinks that he is dead. And then her final words, "I see water and buildings. Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" Those were Sweeney's last words.

Federal agents are uncovering more and more information about those they believe are responsible for that attack and the other one as well. And sometimes that information is shocking to the people who lived and worked with the suspects. CNN's Eileen O'Connor has that.


EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Portland, Maine shocked with the proof - suspected hijackers living in their midst. Surveillance photos released by the police show Mohamed Atta with another of the suspected hijackers right there at the airport calmly walking through security despite the knowledge by intelligence agencies worldwide that Atta was a man to watch.

It's the same here just outside the Washington, D.C. beltway - a surveillance photo uncovered taken days before at an ATM of two Pentagon hijackers. Federal agents working around the clock retracing where they slept, ate, spent time. Police spokesman Jim Collins.

JIM COLLINS, LAUREL, MARYLAND POLICE: These people blend in so well you could have been with them shopping, you could have passed them on the street and you would never know it.

SHURESH PATEL, OWNER, PIN-DEL HOTEL: they act like just a normal person to you.

O'CONNOR: Shuresh Patel owns the Pin-Del Hotel. Dia Ajaro checked into Room 105 on August 27th paying by credit card. Nowa Okawabmbi stayed there September 1st in Room 7 - he paid cash.

On September 11th, Ajaro, the FBI says, was in the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Ahansi is suspected in helping slam American Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

PATEL: I feel, you know, terrible about that, you know? If I would have some kind of hint, you know, we would have called the police or FBI or anything but it was too late.

O'CONNOR: At some point it is believed that Nowako Hansi moved here, to the Valencia Motel, to join other suspected hijackers. People here talk of how they got pizza or shopped at the local Giant. One of them honed his flying skills at a nearby airfield. And then there's the gym.

SPEROS COURTIS, REGIONAL MANAGER, GOLD'S GYM: They really didn't stand out. And it's very common for a group of three guys to come in an workout in the evening here.

O'CONNOR: Regional manager Speros Courtis says the suspected hijackers paid cash and signed their real names. Patrons say knowing men who could commit such heinous acts were among them gives them the creeps.

GABRIEL ROBINSON, GOLD'S GYM MEMBER: It's an uneasy feeling. You've pretty much got to kind of have a third eye.

DENNIS BALTIMORE, GOLD'S GYM MEMBER: And it makes me feel kind of upset that, you know, these people can just go in there and here and then go out and do something like that.

O'CONNOR: Something no one could imagine even in their worst nightmares. Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.


LIN: Well, no doubt about it, the horror of what happened last Tuesday is certainly changing the way Americans work and live under the fear of more terrorist attacks. As you look at these live pictures of the - of where the World Trade Center once stood we're going to be talking with three people who live in a neighborhood just on the edge of disaster and how their lives have changed even though things are getting back to normal.

We're going to be talking about what it's like to live on the edge of disaster there.

HARRIS: Yeah, and speaking of that there are some people around the world who have become quite familiar with that. A few people understand living in terror like the Israelis do. And coming up we'll get their perspectives on what Americans may now face.




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