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Posted By Paul Sperry On 10/16/2002 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
WASHINGTON – Several witnesses to the Beltway sniper shootings over the past two weeks have described suspects resembling Middle-Eastern men, but authorities have played down the Islamic terrorism angle to avoid mass “panic” in the area, an ATF
official told WorldNetDaily.
“That angle is actually being looked at, and the FBI has the lead on it,” said the official, who is working with the sniper-murders task force based in Maryland’s Montgomery County, where the first five shootings took place.
“None of this has been overlooked. There’s an awful lot that they’re not allowing out,” he said. “But the issue really is, as it was with the nuclear (terrorism) stuff, that they do not want public panic.”
The Bush administration fears parents might pull their children from schools if police speculate about a terrorist connection, he says. And federal employees might skip work, effectively shutting down the government.
Also, tourists would likely cancel travel plans, dealing another blow to the area’s already soft economy, says the official, who wished to go unnamed.
That said, the task force won’t likely release a composite sketch of suspects – alternately described by witnesses, law-enforcement lookouts and police-scanner chatter as “Hispanic,” “Middle-Eastern,” “olive-skinned” and “dark-skinned” – until all other suspects are ruled out.
Two white males apprehended separately in the manhunt, based on tips, have been questioned and released. While they were in custody or under watch, the shootings continued. Police say the men, both from Maryland, are not suspects.
Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, who is leading the multi-jurisdictional investigation, Tuesday said the task force has at least a “partial” description of suspects who he suggested are minorities.
But he elected not to release the information, explaining it might “paint some group.”
Since Oct. 2, the sniper or snipers have cut down 11 people in Washington and five surrounding counties with single shots to the head or torso. Nine have died. All were shot with a rifle or rifles that chamber a .223 round, such as an AR-15 or hunting rifle.
Prince Georges Police Department Detective Paula Pascarella, who is part of the task force, told WorldNetDaily on Friday that authorities are investigating the possibility of teams of snipers using more than one .223-caliber rifle and traveling in more than one white vehicle.
Moose told reporters at Tuesday’s press conference that there are “numerous vehicles they could be using.”
The task force has released composite graphics of a white box truck witnesses described leaving the scene of one or more of the Maryland shootings. On Tuesday, it released composite graphics of two models of white cargo vans with roof racks that witnesses reported seeing fleeing the last two shootings in Virginia.
Federal authorities interviewed by WorldNetDaily say the sniper shootings are more sophisticated than first thought, and have the earmarks of an al-Qaida operation.
“These shootings are in line with cheap, low-level terrorism designed to disrupt commerce and law enforcement, and to lower morale,” the ATF official summed up.
Al-Qaida training videos recovered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan demonstrate small-scale attacks such as drive-by shootings and assassinations, as WorldNetDaily first reported. The al-Qaida cell recently busted in Oregon was uncovered after local police spotted operatives shooting targets with assault rifles.
“There have been more shootings outside Montgomery County than inside his jurisdiction,” said an FBI veteran. “Yet he’s still in charge.”
He called Moose’s performance so far “disquieting.”
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