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Police Hold Suspects in Sniper Attacks

Aired October 25, 2002 - 14:03   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very dramatic developments and there's movement right now on the two suspects, the two men in custody for that. Let's bring in our Jeanne Meserve. She's right with me here in Montgomery County. What is exactly happening? We know they were in a jail here in Rockville, but that has changed.
JEANNE MESERVE: Our understanding now is that they're on their way to U.S. district court in Baltimore where there will be an arraignment this afternoon. These are the charges against Mr. Muhammad relating to a Federal weapons charge and against Mr. Malvo, a material witness warrant that's been issued to his arrest. Once again they are on their way we are told to U.S. district court in Baltimore for an arraignment that will take place this afternoon.

A short time ago we got to take a look at the warrant relating to that Federal weapons charge against Mr. Muhammad. In it it details an interview that FBI agents had just two days ago with an old military acquaintance of Mr. Muhammad's, a Mr. Robert Edward Holmes (ph). He recounts in this how he has seen Mr. Muhammad in possession of automatic weapons, also a silencer, also a scope and how Mr. Muhammad has remarked to him you could imagine the damage you could do if you could shoot with a silencer. We do know that a weapon was recovered from that 1990 Chevy Caprice. It was a Bushmaster .223 weapon. That means that it could shoot the .223 caliber ammunition that has been linked to all the sniper shootings, but we don't know if this specific gun was the one that shot the specific sniper bullets. Those ballistic tests being conducted now by the ATF. We do also learn from law enforcement sources that a hole had been worn (ph) in the trunk of that vehicle that would allow someone to shoot a weapon from inside the vehicle Wolf.

BLITZER: They're moving now to Baltimore, the U.S. attorney presumably in Maryland will be in charge of this. Do we know specifically yet what the charges are going to be or is that still open-ended?

MESERVE: My understanding is the arraignment today will relate to the material witness charge against Mr. Malvo and the Federal weapons charge, the outstanding warrant, against Mr. Muhammad. This does not relate, it's my understanding, to any other potential charges that may be brought against them in the future. The latest reporting we have from Kelli Arena was that no decisions had yet been made as to further charges and prosecutions, where those would be made, what the charges would be.

BLITZER: Now John Malvo, the 17-year-old, as material witness, a material witness to what? MESERVE: Oh, you're quizzing me here, testing my knowledge.

BLITZER: I believe it was...

MESERVE: ... stemming from the sniper case.

BLITZER: Right, so that's directly related, but the charge being filed against Mr. Muhammad is not directly related to the sniper investigation?

MESERVE: No, this related to a warrant filed in Washington state. It has to do with a restraining order filed against him to keep him from threatening his wife and children.

BLITZER: So those are both initial counts, initial charges that will be files, presumably, assuming that they are the suspects of this sniper case. It's probably only just beginning for them. But they'll be moved to a jail if they haven't already been moved to a jail in Baltimore from here in Rockville.

MESERVE: I don't know that detail.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne Meserve, thanks for joining us. We're going to continue to monitor all of these developments. There's other developments, of course, that stem from the overnight capture of these two suspects. Our Bob Franken is standing by to pick up that part of the story. He's out in -- way out in Maryland. Bob, give us the latest on what happened where you are.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, way out in Maryland, indeed about 50 miles north of Washington. Imagine how mundane the end of this was. Two men sleeping in their car. The car that contained men who officials are now beginning to believe had been so successful and so clever in plotting escape routes. They were asleep in the car when the agents -- state police agents, a tactical squad swooped down on them about 3:30 this morning, about two hours after the car was originally spotted by somebody who had heard broadcast reports about it. All of that happened this morning. This area was sealed off several hours.

But now the car itself is sitting in Montgomery County. It is waiting there. The burgundy Caprice is waiting there for even more extensive examination that it has had thus far. Already we're hearing reports that they found a weapon that they hid in there, that they found perhaps a hiding place in the car, that kind of thing. It was brought out of here somewhere before noon, shortly before noon, about 7 1/2 hours after the arrests occurred after police had examined it quite a bit on the scene. It was taken to the Rockville area in a trailer, just to make sure that everything was absolutely protected, but up until that time, this area had been swarming with police. There were about 70 officers from the many Federal agencies and local agencies and state agencies who were involved in this investigation, about 50 vehicles, vehicles that included sophisticated evidence examination units, that type of thing. They were here for hours. There were bloodhounds and specialty dogs who were brought in to just try and scour every little bit of evidence. Of course it was an arrest that had taken place after one person spotted the vehicle, went in and got some help from another man who worked here. They were told that they had to stay in their van which ironically, Wolf, was a white van.

BLITZER: As you take a look at the scene right now, Bob, the scene at the site at that rest area where that car was spotted, the two individuals picked up, arrested, brought here, back to Rockville, Maryland. We believe they're on the way to Baltimore right now for arraignment. What's the scene like right now?

FRANKEN: Well, were it not for the hoards of media who are crawling all over right now, you don't normally see satellite trucks sitting here, but you see people coming in and out, people who normally use these rest areas, who are driving down an interstate like the one just outside here, Interstate 70. It's a - you would describe it almost as in the middle of nowhere. They're coming here to use the facilities and then they get back on. They're doing it now. As I said, were it not for all the cameras and all the satellite trucks, this would be now a normal afternoon.

BLITZER: And it was an alert motorist who called police, who began this ball rolling and it only occurred what three hours after they released the information about the license plate and the identities of these two people they wanted for questioning.

FRANKEN: Oh, you know Wolf, there's going to be a debate that lasts for an awful long time about exactly how much information should be put out, but for those who argue that giving the public as much information as possible pays off, certainly paid off in this particularly instance. The person, he's not been identified, but the person had heard the broadcast reports. He'd seen the description of the car and the license plate and all that and when he came rolling in here along this road, he saw it and immediately went and called 911 and got the response that resulted where we are now.

BLITZER: Very smart guy. Thanks to him, these two guys are now at least arrested. We'll see what happens. We'll see what unfolds. Bob Franken, thanks for that. And we're standing by here in Montgomery County, Maryland. We expect at some point to hear from members of the task force led by the Montgomery County police chief, Charles Moose, the Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, representatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI agent in charge, Gary (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We're hoping to hear from them. There had been some indication that could happen in the next hour of course. Once that does happen Miles, we'll have complete live coverage here on CNN. Much more coverage from here, but for now, back to Miles at the CNN center in Atlanta.

O'BRIEN: You know, one of the questions on my mind, you might even have the answer. Why Federal charges? This has all along been a state investigation spearheaded by Montgomery County and now we find the suspects are in Federal court.

BLITZER: Well, the two specific charges that they're being arraigned on right now in Baltimore, U.S. district court, let me read both of them to you for John Muhammad, a firearms charge out of western Washington state related to allegations made in his earlier behavior there. The second charge to the 17-year old John Malvo, a material witness warrant based on what he may have seen or heard in Greenbelt, Maryland. That's in Prince George's County, outside Washington, D.C. That is directly related to the sniper case investigation. Federal charges, U.S. attorney in Maryland presumably will be bringing forward these initial charges against these two individuals. I assume that this has been the source of somewhat of a legal battle. Who's going to get jurisdiction, whether local, state or Federal authorities in prosecuting these two individuals if in fact they are the snipers that is so widely suspected right now. But at least to start with the U.S. attorney is going to have their hands on this legal issue.

O'BRIEN: Initial maybe is the right term but you got four local jurisdictions if you count Montgomery, Alabama that may want to weigh in on this one. We'll have to stay tuned and see how that all gets sorted out. Wolf Blitzer will be checking in with you in just a little bit. Thank you very much, appreciate it.

Law enforcement sources are stressing there is no evidence linking the sniper to organized terrorism, but there are many who are suggesting there could be a possible connection. We're talking of course about the conversion to Islam. One of the prime suspects, John Allen Muhammad, formerly John Williams. We'd like to know your opinion about this. Do you think the sniper attacks are linked to terrorism? To cast your ballot, check out our quick vote. It's at and for those of you who have AOL service, the key word is CNN. The poll hasn't changed a bit in an hour. Forty two percent of you say yes; 58 percent say no. It has nothing to do with terrorism. A reminder, this poll is by no means scientific.

Let's give you a road map for our viewers here. Lots of coverage on the snipers coming up tonight, 5 p.m. Eastern. Wolf Blitzer will be back to host a special hour long report on the sniper investigation. He'll be from Montgomery County. Then an 8 p.m. Eastern, Connie Chung, a special on the sniper suspect. Who are these men who are allegedly behind the attacks and stay tune for a revealing hour long look at John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo. And then at 10 Eastern tonight, news night with Aaron Brown will give some insights into how police cracked this case. That's all tonight on CNN prime time. Stay with us.

Let's break away from the sniper story. We'll get the latest on the hostage crisis in Moscow. CNN's Mike Hanna is live at the scene there. Mike.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, a crisis it is and it's now been ongoing for some 24 hours, that is since a group of gunmen and women took over a theater building you see over my shoulder. It's about half a mile down the road behind me there. A group burst in during the interval of a musical, seizing the entire audience hostage. Now the Federal security services tell us that there are some 700 hostages still in that building being held by the Chechen separatists. They are believed to be the group that are holding these people hostages, but that number is diminished by two within the last few hours.

Here's some pictures that we've just received. Two 18-year old girls managed to get out of the second floor of the building and escaping to safety. Shots were fired during their escape, and we understand that a special forces operative was injured in the shots that were fired during the escape by the two girls. One of the girls was wounded; however, both are said to be safe at this stage. Now in the course of the day, a number of hostages have come out. Some others managed to escape. Also the hostage takers released a number after intervention and mediation by various people, including the Red Cross and some Russian parliamentarians. That also in the course of the day, one of the hostages who came out read a note that she said was from all of the hostages, calling on the Russian forces not to attempt to take the building by force. And this is what she had to say.


TRANSLATOR: There's a very difficult situation in there. There are a lot of people in there who find themselves in a very difficult situation. They ask you earnestly that people pay attention to this Chechen problem, that people support the exit of troops from Chechnya. The people who are sitting there who they are is still unknown. These people are completely basing their hopes on people outside the hall and here I have a declaration.


HANNA: Also emerging in the course of the day from the theater building a dead body. The body that say the Federal security services of a 20-year-old woman. She had been shot in the chest, also her fingers had been broken. The Federal security services quite sure about when this woman was killed. They believe that it was probably at the original takeover some 24 hours ago by the group of Chechen separatists. The demand that has been received is that the Russian forces pull out of Chechnya. No indication yet what position the Russian government is adopting on this. No indication yet what the mediation is happening or indeed whether any direct mediation is happening with the Russian government, but Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, postponed an international trip during which he was to meet U.S. President George Bush. That now postponed. Putin staying here to deal with this ongoing crisis. Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Mike Hanna in Moscow, thank you very much for that update on that ongoing situation there.

Washington state and Washington, D.C. area, of Montgomery County, Montgomery, Alabama, three locations all connected to the sniper investigation. We'll go live to Washington state, Tacoma to learn more about the two men now in custody and just ahead we'll try to bring some of these threads together for you in the sniper case with our law enforcement experts. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Just what will authorities be looking for as they investigate the two men now in custody. We'll go in depth with a former detective and a security expert about that just ahead. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Let's get back with a couple of our experts and ask a few questions. In Washington we have security analyst J. Kelly McCann, in New York, security expert Lou Palumbo, the latter having spent some time in NYPD. Lou, let me ask you a question. If you had one question to ask these suspects today in interrogation, what would it be?

LOU PALUMBO, SECURITY EXPERT: Ultimately, what was the motive and what were they trying to prove by take these innocent human lives?

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's a good question. Kelly, would you go along with that, motive?

KELLY MCCANN: No. I'm going to take a different tack and I'm going to say, if I had one question it would be what mosque did he routinely attend in the local area?

O'BRIEN: There you go. This is obviously -- you are headed down the road of some sort of perhaps Islamist link in all of this. What does your gut tell you Kelly?

MCCANN: I think that this thing has been so convoluted and so chris-crossed Miles that like any case as Lou I'm sure would agree, you've got to run the road until you get to the end and there's still some big open roads that go beyond this incident that I think have to be run.

O'BRIEN: Lou, where are you on this possible terrorism link? If not -- I'm not necessarily saying are these guys members of al Qaeda, but could they perhaps be sympathizers to the general cause, the Islamist cause?

PALUMBO: Yes, clearly they could be and, I agree with Kelly that at this point we need to leave no stone unturned and the other point simply stated is the Federal government has to continue this investigation to exhaust all possibilities and put to rest any possibility that there is a terrorist tie to an international group. Kelly's right on target with this thing. One of the things that's interesting is these two individuals are in custody right now. They haven't been charged with these murders, but they've been charges with other crimes. That affords the government to keep them in custody and continue this investigation. The next thing we're going to be looking at is if bail's going to be afforded to them.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, there's this whole jurisdictional issue jurisdictional issue. There's any number of jurisdictions that could get involved here. What's your gut, Kelly? Is it going to end up in one of the state courts? Federal law is not ideally suited for murder cases. Those are state laws typically that enforce murder laws.

MCCANN: You can bet that what they can be charged with is being scrutinized from every angle and the maximum that they can be charged with under our laws. They are going to utilize it, you can bet that.

O'BRIEN: Kelly, let's go back to that point about the mosque because, Seattle, for those of us who have been following this whole war against terrorism, Seattle has been a focal point in this country. Remind us about the details on that and why you think Seattle may or may not be a coincidence in all of this.

MCCANN: Well, the first thing is the momentum. When you get to a closure like this or almost to a closure and you have such a lightning momentum, you don't want to lose that momentum. You want to speed past your adversary. And right now we have gained a foothold and we've got some momentum. But...

O'BRIEN: What do you mean by that, Kelly, speed past your adversary?

MCCANN: When you almost get hit by a round you tend to move pretty quick. And I think that when lightning strikes closely you start to see significant indicators. But to go back to what you had asked me Miles, I think we'll all remember there was a link drawn between the north London Alhamzi (ph) mosque there, Richard Reid, with a radical mosque that was run out of Seattle. For years there has been some fundamentalist and some strange going ons in and around Seattle. It kept coming up in message traffic that was intercepted but no one could determine the specific threat. Was it the space needle? Was it the port facility? Was it because it was close to a border? There's just an awful lot of a convergence of interest there. Now some that has been checked, some it has not.

O'BRIEN: About out of time, Lou, but if it does in fact turn out to be linked to terrorism, one way or another, even if it's just sympathizers, where does that take us? What's next in the war on terrorism?

PALUMBO: Well, we expend, of course if that's the case, then we have to decide what the origin is outside of the country. And the president will have to make a decision on how he's going to address it, much the same way he did in Afghanistan. To just quickly address the jurisdiction issue, the fact that Maryland took them into custody is going to give them the prerogative to charge them and prosecute them first providing the Federal government doesn't disclose a larger plot or scheme that involves outside terrorism. At that point they can take the prosecution role on this.

O'BRIEN: All right, so it's anybody's guess at this juncture. Thanks very much gentlemen, Kelly McCann and Lou Palumbo in Washington and New York, respectively. We appreciate that. We're going to take a break. We'll have more on the sniper coming up. We'll go live to Washington state to learn more about the backgrounds of the two men now in custody. That's coming up shortly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: We are still waiting to hear from members of the task force investigating the D.C. area sniper shootings. All day they have been questioning two men who are described as suspects in this shooting spree. We understand are now on their way to the Federal courthouse in Baltimore for some sort of preliminary hearing. They are 42-year-old John Allen Muhammad seen here on the right, his 17- year-old stepson John Lee Malvo on the left. The two were found sleeping in a car at a rest stop outside Washington early this morning. Authorities also found a weapon in the car. It's a .223 caliber rifle, which fires the same kind of ammunition used in the sniper shootings. Ballistics tests are under way. Those two men are expected to appear before a Federal magistrate at the Federal courthouse in Baltimore imminently and we'll bring information -- more information to you on that as it becomes available. We're going to be back with more in just a moment.


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