Five men detained as suspected conspirators
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
By PAULO LIMA
About eight hours after terrorists struck Manhattan's tallest skyscrapers, police in Bergen County detained five men who they said were found carrying maps linking them to the blasts.
The five men, who were in a van stopped on Route 3 in East Rutherford around 4:30 p.m., were being questioned by police but had not been charged with any crime late Tuesday. The Bergen County Police bomb squad X-rayed packages found inside the van but did not find any explosives, authorities said.
However, sources close to the investigation said they found other evidence linking the men to the bombing plot.
"There are maps of the city in the car with certain places highlighted," the source said. "It looked like they're hooked in with this. It looked like they knew what was going to happen when they were at Liberty State Park."
Sources also said that bomb-sniffing dogs reacted as if they had detected explosives, although officers were unable to find anything. The FBI seized the van for further testing, authorities said.
Sources said the van was stopped as it headed east on Route 3, between the Hackensack River bridge and the Sheraton hotel. As a precaution, police shut down Route 3 traffic in both directions after the stop and evacuated a small roadside motel near the Sheraton.
Sources close to the investigation said the men said they were Israeli tourists, but police had not been able to confirm their identities. Authorities would not release their names.
East Rutherford officers stopped the van after the FBI's Newark Field Office broadcast an alert asking surrounding police departments to look for a white Chevrolet van, police said.
"We got an alert to be on the lookout for a white Chevrolet van with New Jersey registration and writing on the side," said Bergen County Police Chief John Schmidig. "Three individuals were seen celebrating in Liberty State Park after the impact. They said three people were jumping up and down."
The East Rutherford officers summoned the county police bomb squad, New Jersey state troopers, and FBI agents, who waited alongside the van as prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office tried to obtain a warrant to search the van late Tuesday, Schmidig said.
By 10 p.m., members of the bomb squad were picking through the van and X-raying packages found inside, Schmidig said.
Sources said the FBI alert, known as a BOLO or "Be On Lookout," was sent out at 3:31 p.m.
"Vehicle possibly related to New York terrorist attack. White, 2000 Chevrolet van with New Jersey registration with 'Urban Moving Systems' sign on back seen at Liberty State Park, Jersey City, NJ, at the time of first impact of jetliner into World Trade Center.
"Three individuals with van were seen celebrating after initial impact and subsequent explosion. FBI Newark Field Office requests that, if the van is located, hold for prints and detain individuals."
FBI spokeswoman Sandra Carroll declined to comment on the incident late Tuesday.
State police Lt. Col. Barry W. Roberson confirmed the traffic stop at a late night news briefing at state police headquarters in Trenton. He would not elaborate, however.
Business records show an Urban Moving Systems with offices on West 50th Street in Manhattan and on West 18th Street in Weehawken. Telephone messages left at the businesses Tuesday evening were not immediately returned.
Business records show the owner as Dominik Suter of Fair Lawn. A woman answering the telephone at Suter's home acknowledged he owned the company but refused to comment further. She also declined to identify herself.
It was not clear Tuesday whether the van stopped by police is related to Suter's company.
A business traveler staying at the Homestead Studio Suites Hotel said she watched state troopers drive the suspects away in a procession of state police cars about 5 p.m.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, said the people detained appeared to be white men, but she could not give more details. About 5:30 p.m., police evacuated the hotel without offering guests an explanation.
"First, they told us we could hang out in the lobby, but then they told us we had to leave," the traveler said.
At 10 p.m., the hotel guest said she could see at least two police officers searching through the van while a crowd of other officers kept their distance. Except for police vehicles and a tow truck, the service road beside Route 3 was empty, she said.
Staff Writer Wendy Ruderman contributed to this report. Staff Writer Paulo Lima's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org