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May 23, 2002
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On the Home Front
Atta in New York
Suspected Hijack Leader Visited WTC
Also: Air Cargo Seen as Security Risk; White House Was Sept. 11 Target; Firefighter Chic at Miss Universe Pageant; Father Recalls Sept. 11 Victim


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FBI Believes Atta Cased WTC

N E W  Y O R K, May 22 — The suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 hijackers spent a considerable amount of time in New York City prior to the attacks, and apparently went to the observation deck on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center's tower two, FBI agents said.

The exact date and time of Mohamed Atta's visit to the tower is not known, but FBI agents have tracked the movements of Atta and fellow hijackers through the city — from a copy shop at Columbus Circle where they used computers to check their e-mail, to the Trade Center.

Authorities believe Atta's purpose may have been to set the coordinates of the Trade Center on a hand-held aircraft navigational device. With target coordinates entered, such devices could tell the hijackers if the planes veered from a collision course with their intended targets.

"If they didn't know how to use the sophisticated navigational systems they have in those big airplanes, they could use one of these very, very simple devices," said Jerry Carbone, a flight equipment store owner.

The FBI confirmed Atta, in fact, did buy one of the devices through the mail for about $500.

Thousands of amateur pilots use the navigational devices, so one might not have seemed unusual as Atta passed through airport security in Portland, Maine, on his way to Boston and American Airlines Flight 11.

ABCNEWS' Brian Ross contributed to this report.

Air Cargo a Security Risk?

May 22 — Federal officials have been trying to correct perceived air security flaws that could allow terrorists to plant bombs by shipping them as air cargo, but critics say they still have a way to go before defusing the threat.

About 8 percent of all cargo worldwide is shipped on airplanes, including commercial flights, and about 45 percent of cargo flown on planes in the United States is flown on passenger planes.

The Federal Aviation Administration commissioned an outside company to do a study of cargo security in 1999, and the 45-page, confidential report was presented to the agency in October 2001, ABCNEWS has learned.

With a crackdown ongoing in passenger baggage security, "terrorists may be tempted to take advantage of cargo shipments," making securing the system a matter of passenger security, the report said, according to USA Today, which obtained parts of the report and quoted them in today's editions.

The study apparently detailed a number of ways that a bomb could be smuggled onto an aircraft in cargo. In the extreme, the report says the only way to be 100 percent secure is to keep all cargo off passenger planes, or to screen it all. The government estimates about 4 percent of cargo on planes is screened.

"There has to be a recognition that this is a very serious threat," said Capt. David Webb of the Air Line Pilots Association, which is critical of current cargo security measures and the government's resolve to strengthen them. "It could be the next level of terrorist attack."

John Magaw, head of the federal Transportation Security Administration, an agency responsible for securing the cargo, told a Senate committee Tuesday "cargo is a huge concern" to safety officials, who are in the process of closing "loopholes."

As a result of the report, the FAA issued a half-dozen emergency security directives to strengthen cargo security, including one to tighten rules on who can be considered "known shippers" — companies subject to less scrutiny because of their histories of safety and shipment security.

Since Sept. 11, no mail over 16 ounces can go on passenger planes, and any cargo shipped on passenger planes has to come from a known shipper, without exception. Before Sept. 11, there were procedures in place that allowed for exceptions.

As a result of tightened measures, air mail is down about 50 percent and cargo 15 percent on passenger planes.

But according to USA Today, the confidential report noted, "a terrorist could take a job with a shipper/manufacturer that regularly ships by air and introduce [a bomb] into a 'known shipper' shipment, recognizing that the shipment would not be screened."

The TSA is expected to require background checks on all employees of freight forwarders, but has not yet done so.

Undercover tests by the inspector general earlier this year determined that proper procedures and paperwork on cargo shipments were followed 99 percent of the time, ABCNEWS has learned. The procedures generally consist of written assurances from shippers that their cargo is bomb-free, USA Today reported.

ABCNEWS' Lisa Stark contributed to this report.

White House Target on Sept. 11

W A S H I N G T O N, May 22 — Authorities have received new information suggesting that the hijackers of Flight 93, the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, intended to slam the plane into the White House, government sources said today.

The information is believed to have come from Abu Zubaydah, the senior al Qaeda terrorist leader now in U.S. custody. He is being interrogated by U.S. officials at an undisclosed location.

United Flight 93 took off from Newark and crashed in Somerset County, Pa., after passengers rose up against the hijackers. The San Francisco-bound flight had turned toward Washington, D.C., and U.S. fighters were flying to intercept it, and possibly shoot it down, when it crashed. All 44 people aboard were killed.

Officials had previously assumed the White House was a likely target, but said the U.S. Capitol and CIA headquarters in McLean, Va., were other possibilities.

The prisoner Abu Zubaydah is believed to have played a key role in organizing the Sept. 11 attacks, officials said.

As al Qaeda's top operational planner, he ran the Khalden camp in Afghanistan, where U.S. investigators have learned many of the Sept. 11 hijackers trained. This suggests Abu Zubaydah may have had direct contact with the hijackers and chosen them for training.

He also had telephone contacts with at least one Arab student at U.S. flight schools, according to the FBI's Phoenix memo.

The CIA, FBI and Pakistani authorities captured and wounded Abu Zubaydah in a raid by in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in March. He is believed to have masterminded the failed millennium bombing plots in Los Angeles and Jordan, and has been linked to failed plots on the U.S. embassies in Paris and Sarajevo.

Abu Zubaydah was also indirectly linked, through a web of associations with other al Qaeda members in Europe, to lead hijacker Mohammed Atta and his cell in Hamburg, Germany. Three members of the Hamburg cell were suicide hijackers; three others are still at-large.

The pilot-hijacker of Flight 93, Ziad Jarrah, was a member of the Hamburg cell.

President Bush was in Florida, not the White House, on the morning of Sept. 11.

Abu Zubaydah's statements that the White House was the target were first reported by NBC.

Miss U.S.A. Dons Firefighter Uniform

S A N  J U A N, Puerto Rico, May 22 — Other competitors sported provocative feathers and flowing lace, but Miss U.S.A., in the first competition of this year's Miss Universe pageant, chose to represent her country with the decidedly un-sexy uniform of a New York firefighter.

"U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" the crowd chanted as Shauntay Hinton, garbed in a firefighter's coat, fireproof pants and black helmet with reflective yellow stickers, saluted and waved the Stars and Stripes during Tuesday's competition in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Her show of patriotism and tribute to the firefighting heroes who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center were not enough to win the day.

The prize went to Miss Colombia, 20-year-old Vanessa Mendoza, in a gold dress adorned with blue, yellow and red feathers designed to reflect "the richness of Colombia's Pacific Coast."

Mendoza takes home $1,000 and a crystal trophy. The costume contest has no bearing on the final May 29 competition.

"Some of the costumes are extremely detailed but while there's not a lot of glamour in Miss U.S.A.'s outfit, the impact is tremendous," said pageant spokeswoman Mary Hilliard.

Seventy-six beauty queens donned costumes supposed to reflect the spirit of their countries for the national costume contest in the 51st Miss Universe pageant.

The Associated Press

Father Remembers Daughter Killed Sept. 11

B A T E S V I L L E, Arkansas, May 22 — Mike Low can talk about his youngest daughter Sara with pride. He can even talk about the agonizing events of Sept. 11 without bitterness.

But he can't talk about his family piecing their lives back together without occasionally clearing his voice or wiping away a tear.

Low talked with his 28-year-old daughter two days before her death in the terrorist attacks and she said she had picked up an extra flight. Low was a flight attendant on the American Airlines plane that crashed into the World Trade Center.

Tuesday, the U.S. Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell, Ky., returned the bronze-colored, flight-attendant wings that a soldier wore in Afghanistan in Sara's memory at her father's request. Low planned to attend the ceremony.

"She had just moved to Beacon Hill in the historical part of Boston, and was booking extra flights to pay for her expensive rent," Low recalled of the days before the attack.

The morning of Sept. 11, Low said he was at his business at Midwest Lime Co. in Batesville. He had just gotten a cup of coffee when he learned a plane had hit the towers. When he heard the flight was out of Boston, "I immediately went home. I knew Sara was to fly that morning and I knew (my wife) Bobbie would be watching the news."

Two hours later, they had the confirmation they feared.

"Nothing can be more painful than those first few hours," Low said.

Today, Low's office is filled with reminders of Sara.

Condolence letters from the White House, dignitaries and strangers are on the walls. The earliest photo of Sara shows her "being silly" around age 4.

Other photos include her Batesville High School days with dad escorting her to a homecoming event; a professional photograph with her mother and her sister Alyson; one in her flight attendant uniform and snapshots of the winter vacations spent skiing in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

"Sara was a good kid. She was an athletic honor student. She was also an aggressive young woman with high standards," her father said.

After graduating from high school, Sara attended the University of Arkansas and received a degree in banking. "Banking was just not exciting enough for her," Low said. "That's why she became a flight attendant."

Low said his family has a small plane and Sara liked flying. Since the attack, the family has gotten little information about Sara's last moments on American Airlines Flight 11.

"We know Mohamed Atta was in the section Sara was working," Low said, referring to one of the terrorists.

"She was not the type to panic. Knowing Sara, we think she would have been in control of the situation and comforting others. She would be doing what she was trained to do right up to the last moment."

No remains from the attack have been identified as Sara's. "We still hope to get some remnant," her father said. "But there is no finality, no closure."

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