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2 Men Arrested in Sniper Investigation

Aired October 24, 2002 - 08:03   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: OK, let's go to Bob Franken -- Bob, you just heard the news. Law enforcement confirming to Kelli Arena at the Justice Department they've got their two guys in custody.
You have lived in this area that has been terrorized by these attacks. What is your reaction not only as a journalist, but as a father, a grandfather and a person who has lived in fear as the rest of the community has?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously the sense of relief that everybody is feeling. You know, we've talked about this, Paula, how every resident, all of us who live here have taken to looking over our shoulder, looking particularly as we walk past wooded areas, aware of the fact that everybody was so taken by surprise.

It really struck me the other morning when I was covering the story of the shooting of the bus driver. He and his people, other bus drivers were just standing around. It was a staging area. And we heard that they were talking about this. Everybody was talking about this. And then to have somebody suddenly have his life snuffed out is something that is so chilling. And, of course, particularly for the parents, particularly after the note came out where he threatened the children, so much in fear for the children, not knowing what was the right thing to do.

There was just a tension. This place was overcome with it. Many people didn't go out, didn't go shopping. Business was down. We talked to any number of merchants or the people who even have, the places where the people would have their hair cut. People weren't leaving their house. They were afraid.

It was really a remarkable circumstance and, of course, there will be a huge sigh of relief if, in fact, this turns out to break the sniper case.

ZAHN: Oh, we're all praying that to be the case.

Let's go to Kelli Arena, who joins us by telephone. She has just confirmed for CNN that John Allen Muhammad and John Malvo are, indeed, suspects at this hour -- Kelli, walk us through what else you've learned.

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that, just that, that government sources to confirm for us that these two individuals are believed to be the snipers. One individual that we spoke to suggested that the two worked as a team. I can tell you that from watching this whole situation you had two very clear patterns. One, several of the people who were shot were hit bulls eyes square in the head. You had others who were hit in the torso area. Some of those actually surviving the shooting.

One source suggested that perhaps this was some sick competition between these two individuals. That, of course, I have not seen anything officially in writing to suggest that that would be the government's charge. But we have been told that these two individuals are believed to be, by investigators, the snipers that they have in custody and we are expecting some sort of official word or charge to come later today.

ZAHN: Kelli, have you been given any indication that anybody else might have been involved?

ARENA: Not at this point. It seems, they seem pretty confident. The investigation, as far as I can tell, is not in the fast forward mode that we started to sense yesterday afternoon leading well into the late hours of last night. There seems to be what I would describe as a lull, perhaps. I don't get the sense that you had the same frenzied atmosphere as we've experienced in the last several days.

So without anybody telling me, what I'm sensing is that that is exactly what we're dealing with. We're dealing with investigators who have some degree of confidence that they may have wrapped this up.

ZAHN: We're all just breathing a sigh of relief as you say that, Kelli. I mean I know you reported that to us about 10 minutes ago. But as I look around, we're all just stunned that this could finally be the end of this.

I want to come back to a point you made which I'm really fascinated by, the concept these sources tell you, the possibility of these two men working as a team. And you sort of qualified where some of the killed were injured, some in the head, some in the torso. Come back to that idea to expand on it.

ARENA: Well, as you know, most manuals that discuss any sniper activity discusses that activity in terms of a pair of individuals, if not for anything else, to have one person doing the shooting and the other to be on the lookout, to be able to make a clean escape and to alert the shooter to the fact that anyone is coming. We've seen this in military manuals. We have even seen this mentioned in al Qaeda terrorist manuals for guidance for a successful sniper attacks.

So the fact that there are two does not come as a surprise to some investigators. However, we heard very often from officials that they thought that, you know, that some were working on a one shooter, one lone person theory because it is much harder to keep information concealed when you are dealing with more than one person. So this is never ruled out, the concept of two people was never ruled out. But investigators truly did not know exactly what they were dealing with for much of the time that these shootings were going on.

What this one source suggested was that it could have been some sort of a bizarre competition, though, between these two individuals.

ZAHN: And these individuals now, we are told, are related by a father and his stepson.

ARENA: That's what we just...

ZAHN: John Allen Muhammad...

ARENA: Right. We discovered that last night, one is the stepfather.

ZAHN: Let's come back to the point you were saying that the sources at this hour are not indicating that there are any more people that were involved in the sniper spree. Are they telling you if these two men are related to any kind of formal organization?

ARENA: No. No. Not at all. Not at this point. I can tell you that there are, they're pretty much in lockdown right now concerning the information flow about these two individuals. As you know, last night we reported that investigators were on the site in Marion, Alabama looking, searching at a camp called Ground Zero. Now, this is a camp that's known to investigators. It is a military style training camp that was somewhat disturbing to local officials because some of the targets for target practice were things like school buses or police vehicles. And they also had manikins that were put in domestic every day settings, blood stains, you know, splattered all over.

Of course, the owners of that facility have long contended this is perfectly legal. It is military type training. But some of our sources dating back months have suggested that this may have been a camp that was used by Islamic extremists to send people through who would do harm to U.S. citizens.

There were no charges brought in that case. These were sources telling us what they believed to be the fact. It is not illegal in the United States to legally obtain firearms or to train with those firearms. That is not an illegal activity. But there was, some sources suggested, a more sinister agenda behind some of the people who traveled through that facility. We know that investigators were there yesterday looking with a search warrant in connection to this sniper investigation.

What that has to do with this case I have not been able to connect at this point. But that is the only indication that we have that this may be something more than just two individuals.

ZAHN: I wanted to bounce something off you, Kelli, that's being reported in the "Seattle Times" this morning that worked up a lot of information on these guys and what their lives were like since they left the Pacific Northwest. And they say several federal sources, this is the "Seattle Times" reporting, once again, said Muhammad and Malvo may have been motivated by anti-American sentiment in the wake of September 11. "Both were known to speak sympathetically about the men who attacked the United States."

Have any of your sources confirmed that that could have been what motivated their sniping spree?

ARENA: I'm going to be very, very careful here because we're getting into a gray area. And on this case we have tried very hard to gain a consensus in our sourcing. I will couch it this way and tell you that one official, one official that I have spoken to suggested that this may be a case of what they call sympathizers. That's one official. That has not been, we have not gone and done our due diligence and gathered a consensus on that. So that's, I would put right up front.

But the concept in general, let's back away from these two individuals, and the concept in general of people that are sympathetic to al Qaeda's cause -- I pull out al Qaeda because that is the terrorist organization that we, at this point, are most familiar with. The people who are sympathetic to that cause, who are not members, who have absolutely no terror connection, but there are people like that living in the United States and around the globe who, we have heard from officials, could take out, know you know, could perform acts of violence against U.S. citizens.

We have heard this from the FBI director. We have heard this from the attorney general, that there is an under current that exists, an anti-American sentiment that is building in some sectors and that they have warned -- and this is why they have asked citizens to remain vigilant -- is that this is not, we are not only dealing with, you know, card carrying members, so to speak, of terrorist organizations, but we are also dealing with individuals who may act out on their own who are sympathetic to the cause represented by many of the terrorist organizations.

ZAHN: Kelli, I want to come back to another point you were making where your source told you this could be, the sniping spree, the result of some sick competition between these two individuals, John Allen Williams, or otherwise known as John Muhammad, and Lee Boyd Malvo. Is anybody confirming whether they traded positions or if one allegedly was on the lookout and the other was the shooter?

ARENA: I think they are getting that information right now.

ZAHN: Because we...

ARENA: You know, these two men have been in custody only a matter of hours. Obviously there is an intense interrogation process that has to go on. Pieces have to be put together. You're dealing with dozens of agencies that have been a part of this because I think that they need, they need to be careful and methodical in putting this together and laying out a sequence and a method for the American public.

ZAHN: Kelli, before I let you go, we've been paying a lot of attention to one of the last phrases that Chief Moose made in the last national briefing overnight where he made, apparently, a distinction between these two men saying do not assume from this allegation that John Allen Muhammad is involved in any of these shootings. But he clearly did not say anything about John Lee Malvo.

ARENA: Well, that's right. He didn't even name him. He referred to him as a juvenile, referred to him as a juvenile and it is the practice of most law enforcement officials not to name juveniles, especially when they have not been charged with anything. And last night no one had been charged with anything, except that we knew that there was an arrest warrant out for a weapons charge that we were told was unrelated to the sniper shootings. The chief being very careful not to call anyone a suspect.

I think that we need to wait until we see something in black and white or we hear it officially and we are trying to do that and, you know, get it to you as soon as we can.

ZAHN: Great. We'll let you get back to working the phones. We should say that the "Baltimore Sun" is confirming this morning that Williams, one of the men now police think is one of the snipers, is wanted on an outstanding shoplifting warrant by Tacoma police and then went on to say that a federal firearms warrant, the police say, was not related to the shootings in the D.C. suburbs.

Let's go to Jeanne Meserve, who has been dialing since the moment we last checked in with her with new information.

First of all, Jeanne, the reaction there to the news that, indeed, the police officials think they have the two snipers in custody this morning.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, as you know, I've been coming to this location for days and the change in tone this morning is just quite amazing. There's tight security here. We have to go through a police checkpoint before we come into the press area. And the police officers out there manning those stops this morning were grinning from ear to ear, clearly feeling that they would soon get a little respite from the very long days they've been putting in and this community would get a bit of respite from the tension that it's been operating under.

Let me tell you that I wanted to weigh in on some of what Kelli was saying about the possible theorizing about any terror connection. As you know, officials have said day after day they have seen absolutely no evidence that this sniping was connected to terror. But they kept revisiting it, Paula. In my conversations with sources they were so puzzled by this series of crimes. They could not figure out any motivation as to why this was happening. And they noted that it was not only paralyzing the community, but having potentially a profound economic impact on their community.

And they wondered if there was a connection possibly between that and recent messages from al Qaeda leadership in which they talked about targeting the economic infrastructure of the United States. Also, of course, a spate of attacks overseas that officials have linked to al Qaeda.

So they kept revisiting this question quite seriously to see if they could find any link. No evidence that I know of that they found any whatsoever. But some of the theories they've spun out were, one, perhaps direct al Qaeda involvement. Secondly, could this be some sort of sympathizer here in this country.

But the thing that kept drawing them back was the no motivation question. And that's going to be one of the key questions to watch today, to watch that develop, see if investigators, as they question these individuals, can come up with a reason for why they committed these crimes.

We know there were demands for money, but we don't know exactly when the snipers wanted to make those demands. The first we heard of them was in that note that was left in Ashland, Virginia after a shooting there on Saturday night in that demand for $10 million in ransom. But in that letter, you'll remember the author said that they had tried to contact authorities repeatedly before that.

We don't know the specifics of that communication. We haven't been able to read it yet. And we don't know whether that sniper was trying to communicate with authorities prior to that Saturday date that they wanted money. So that's something we want to look at today, try and get a grip on whether that could be the motivating factor. If it isn't, was it political? We just do not know.

I emphasize again, no connection that we're aware of to terror in any respect, at least in the classic sense of political terror. Certainly on another level, there's been terror widespread in this community, as you've heard over and over, for the last 23 days -- Paula.

ZAHN: Sure. Jeanne, I just wanted to throw out some things, and I'm sure you probably heard the tail end of Kelli Arena's report, where she's saying, and she was very cautious about it, that only one official among her sources has confirmed or suggested that this may be a case of sympathizers. But in the "Seattle Times" this morning, several federal sources told their reporters that both of these men may have been motivated by anti-American sentiment post-September 11. And it goes on to say both were known to speak sympathetically about the men who attacked the United States.

We should also say, Jeanne, I think one of the most interesting things I've heard this morning is that the mayor of Bellingham, Washington, an area where these two men lived for a short while, said the pair were of interest to them for a while.

Now, they have since left the area nine months ago. But there must have been something that had caught the attention of law enforcement officials, including, I guess, an outstanding warrant for shoplifting filed by Tacoma police.

Do we know anything else about their previous records?

MESERVE: At this point, Paula, we do not have any of those specifics of their previous record, except to know that the elder of these gentlemen, Mr. Muhammad, does have a military record. But as to a criminal record, no. We don't have any specifics on that at this point.

Another thing you were touching on with Kelli was the question of one shooter, two shooter. I do not have any hard information here on what they theorize the relationship between these two individuals was or which one might have been firing or if they were alternating or whatever. But I will tell you that in recent days the people I was talking to were becoming more and more convinced that they were dealing not with one person, but with two in this case.

They felt that some of these scenarios were quite complicated, that you would have had to have had one person on the lookout, one person ready to drive a vehicle away from there.

Also, something Kelli reported on earlier which was that the handwriting in the note that was found in Ashland, Virginia was not the same as the handwriting on the tarot card that was found in Bowie, Maryland after a 13-year-old had been shot there. Now, we do know that experts were looking at this, trying to determine if, perhaps, one person had written both and simply tried to disguise their handwriting. But that might have been a clue that, in fact, there were two individuals involved here rather than one.

ZAHN: Jeanne, on a purely personal level, I know you basically camped out there for the last several weeks. I know you talked about the sense of relief just moments ago when all your reporters on the scene had it confirmed that they think they've got their guys. Just give us some more context of being a resident of the area and what it means if the police really do have their men.

MESERVE: Well, you know, people in this community have reacted in different ways to this. There are those who have definitely curtailed their activities, who have had to cope with things like the cancellation of their children's after school activities. On them, this has had a very real impact.

For many other people in this community, I don't think there has been a profound change in the patterns of their life. People have gone about their business. Have people been talking about this and people have been concerned about this? Absolutely. But has it really affected lifestyle? For some people, definitely it has. For others I would say it has not so much.

I can tell you that probably amongst children here there's going to be a great sigh of relief. As I was driving here this morning I was listening to the all news radio station, which, by the way, has leaped to number one in the Aribtron ratings here, as a result of this crisis. They were going through what the school districts locally were doing today and they were continuing today, at least as of a couple of hours ago, on code blue, which meant that kids were going to stay in lockdown.

As you know, they have been in a very restricted mode for weeks now. It has meant they have not been able to go out for recess. It has meant that a lot of after school outdoor activities, all of them, in fact, have been canceled. Weekend soccer games have been canceled. Homecoming dances have been canceled. I think the kids are the ones who are really going to relish the fact, if these, indeed, are our suspects in custody here, if this proves to be the case that these are the men, and they certainly think they are at this point, I think they're the ones who are going to be most overjoyed and most thrilled at being able to go about their daily activity. I know there's a little girl in my house who's probably going to be real relieved that there's probably going to be a junior high school dance on Friday night, Paula.

ZAHN: Oh, well, boy, we get goose bumps when we think about that because we know how imprisoned these children felt not being able to go outdoors at all.

Jeanne, thanks.

MESERVE: You bet.

ZAHN: Please stand by. We're going to check in with John Timoney now, the former police commissioner of Philadelphia.

Commissioner, your reaction to the fact that law enforcement officials are telling us they've got the snipers.

JOHN TIMONEY, FORMER PHILADELPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER: Yes, well, it's, you know, we said from the get go this has been, certainly for me, the most complex confounding case I've ever witnessed. It isn't getting any clearer. There are all sorts of reasons and rationales and theories of, if these, in fact, are the guys, what was the motive? It is anti anti-Americanism? Is it plain old greed in terms of getting $10 million? Is it just hatred? Are they playing god? Who knows at this point.

It'll be interesting to see what the police chief, when he does come out to do the press conference, says or how much they do say. The one not to surprising part, that, in fact, there were two, we had been saying all along that it's very hard for two people to keep a secret, not to talk about it. There are some indications on the reports last night, I was on CNN with Aaron Brown, that maybe one of them had bragged to somebody, which is what you expect in situations like this.

It's very hard for both people not to talk about this. And so there may be other people that were informed over the last couple of days of this shooting and how that went down. And it looks like at least in one case there may have been a tip to that regard.

So we'll see.

ZAHN: The two men we're talking about are John Allen Muhammad, 41, who is also known as John Allen Williams, and his 17-year-old stepson, John Lee Malvo. According, Commissioner, to the "Seattle Times," they left the area about nine months ago.


ZAHN: We don't know a whole lot about their activities since they left the area. But I want to follow up with an idea that Kelli Arena heard from one of her sources. And she was very careful to say only one of our sources have said this this morning.

TIMONEY: Right. ZAHN: But suggested that this could be a case of sympathizers. Now, the "Seattle Times" reporting that some federal forces believe these men were motivated by anti-American feeling post-September 11 and both were known to have spoken sympathetically about the hijackers who murdered so many Americans and other nationals.

TIMONEY: Yes, well, I mean if that's the case, and I never heard law enforcement ever close down the, you know, the window that it was possibly terrorist related, but, you know, it may not be terrorism or sympathy may not be the sole reason. It could be a whole variety of reasons, including terrorism that just happens to, if you will, settle all scores and so you're sympathetic to these folks at the same time you can pick up a few bucks. And in this case there are $10 million. You can, you know, there are some reports that this guy is a pretty angry guy. He had been locked up for beating up his wife. You know, you could strike out at people.

And so it looks like everything fits this from a speculation point of view. We'll get more information, I hope, over the next 24 or 48 hours in regards to what happened.

What will be fascinating, though, is to go back and do the post- mortems and to find out were there indications, you know, 10 or 15 days ago? Was this information shared with other people?

Because I can tell you, it's extraordinary where two people could keep a secret that long. And I'd be just really interested. We notice when bank robbery teams commit bank robberies, and it looks like these guys, at the end of the day it looks like that they may just be plain old every day hoods. And if that's the case, the notion that they'd be that disciplined to keep a secret and not discuss it or brag about it somewhere, will be fascinating.

ZAHN: Now the other theory that another one of Kelli Arena's sources shared with her, that there could have been some sort of sick competition going on between these two men.

TIMONEY: Yes, I mean that part I wouldn't even begin to speculate. And the only way you would ever know that, you know, people can, you know, you know, people can talk about that all they want. The only way you'll ever know that is by debriefing, interviewing, what's going on now, those two guys to find out what, in fact, went on.

You know, that theory has been out there, but it's, you know, all it is is a theory at this particular point.

ZAHN: And I know we've been trying to give our audience the best ideas we could of how this investigation came over. You said it's probably one of the most complicated ones you've seen...


ZAHN: ... with now this murder perhaps being tied to these two men as well as the sniping spree.


ZAHN: But this whole West Coast angle is, I find interesting, because the Bellingham mayor is quoted in one of the papers this morning saying that this pair was of interest to him a while ago.

TIMONEY: Yes, well, that's very interesting. The other really interesting part is the shooting that happened in Montgomery, Alabama, if, in fact, it was a .223 slug that was used. You talked about making an argument for ballistics identification testing. This will be it. The notion that somehow, you know, the geographical profilers were saying well, it's somebody that lives in the area.

Well, look at the geographical profiling. It basically covers up and down the East Coast from Alabama all the way up to Camden, New Jersey and out to Seattle.

ZAHN: We will say that the "Baltimore Sun" is confirming that they believe that the ammunition used in the Alabama shooting was a .223. The local Alabama paper, the "Montgomery Advertiser," not saying that, but hopefully some of this will become clearer when we come to that news conference at nine o'clock, when Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose will be joining us.

Just a quick final thought, Commissioner Timoney, before we bring everybody up to date on all of the strands of the story that we're following here?

TIMONEY: Well, it's been an extraordinary case and, you know, it's going to be fascinating to listen to this press conference at 9:00, and for the people in Washington, Montgomery County and Virginia, it has to be a tremendous sense of relief, particularly for the children.

ZAHN: Absolutely. Jeanne Meserve said particularly for her own. Maybe she will be able to go to a school dance after all. Commissioner Timoney, we'd love to get back to you after the news conference to see if you can help us read between the lines, as this information is so new.


ZAHN: We appreciate your time this morning.

TIMONEY: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: If you have just been joining us, we've been covering breaking news in the sniper investigation. Sources are now telling CNN that authorities believe they have the killers in custody at this hour. Two men were arrested earlier this morning in western Maryland after a tip from a motorist.


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