WASHINGTON - FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said yesterday that the identities of several of the suicide hijackers now are in doubt, complicating the work of investigators trying to create intricate personal and financial profiles of the attackers.
There also were signs of progress in the extensive inquiry into last week's attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In Chicago, the FBI arrested a man with possible ties to fugitive Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden whom police were looking for earlier this week in Detroit.
Determining the hijackers' identities, though, remains a crucial step for investigators. The FBI released the names of 19 alleged hijackers last week, but that list quickly was called into question by news reports from the Middle East, where several of the men named - some of them pilots - were said to be alive.
Speaking at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, Mueller told reporters that while the names of several suspected hijackers did match names on the airline passenger lists, "We have several others that are still in question."
Fears for Saturday
As agents retraced their steps to determine for sure the identities of the hijackers, the investigation faced other hurdles. The FBI still is tracking reports that more violence might be planned for tomorrow. And Mueller said investigators analyzing the cockpit voice recorder from Flight 93 are having to translate some of the "dialogue" - "what little dialogue there is," he said.
At the same time, the bureau remains under scrutiny for its actions before the attack and for its treatment of Muslim Americans as the investigation goes forward.
A report in yesterday's Los Angeles Times said FBI and CIA officials were alerted in August that as many as 200 terrorists were slipping into the United States and were planning a "major assault" on the country.
Justice Department officials refused to comment on the report.
Several U.S. Muslim leaders also complained here yesterday that FBI agents were harassing Arabs and Muslims. The leaders said they had advised people in the Muslim community to consult a lawyer before talking to agents.
In some cases, the Muslim leaders said, FBI agents had pulled Middle Eastern students out of college classes or shown up at mosques as evening services were beginning to question worshippers.
"There's just something about it that suggests there needs to be some religious or cultural sensitivity training within the bureau," said W. Mahdi Bray, president of the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations, in Washington.
Mueller said Monday that the bureau was not targeting the Muslim community in the investigation. Justice officials said yesterday that the FBI has opened 55 investigations across the country to review reports of ethnically motivated hate crimes.
Numbers remain unclear
It was unclear yesterday how many people were being held in connection with the terrorist investigation, either as material witnesses or on possible immigration violations. The Justice Department said Wednesday that 115 suspected illegal aliens had been detained, but spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said late yesterday that number was wrong. She did not provide a revised figure.
In Chicago, FBI agents added at least one name to the list. Nabil Al-Marabh, 34, was taken into custody at a suburban convenience store late Wednesday and was being questioned yesterday at the bureau's Chicago field office.
Al-Marabh was detained on a possible immigration violation and a warrant for a probation violation in Massachusetts. Authorities were still trying yesterday to determine whether he is the same Nabil Al-Marabh whose name appeared on an FBI list of nearly 200 people wanted for questioning.
Federal agents had been seeking Al-Marabh earlier in the week in Detroit. On Monday, they raided a house in southwest Detroit with his name on the mailbox. He was not there, but agents arrested three other men there for having false immigration papers and identification.
Agents also found a hand-sketched diagram of an airport flight line in the house.
The investigation's two most visible figures, Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft, traveled to western Pennsylvania yesterday to visit the crash site of Flight 93 and speak with local leaders.
Passengers and crew members aboard the flight are believed to have fought back against the hijackers, possibly averting an attack on Washington. Mueller said it would be premature to discuss the information agents have gleaned about Flight 93's final moments.
But he said, "I think both of us here ... have indicated we believe those passengers on this jet were absolute heroes. And their actions during this flight were heroic."