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.
For one, the shootings are unbelievably brazen, like the Sept. 11 attacks. Eyewitnesses in both the Home Depot shooting in Falls Church, Va., and Exxon station shooting in Fredericksburg, Va., told authorities they saw a sniper taking aim and shooting from outside the reported getaway van, WorldNetDaily has learned.
The snipers, like the Sept. 11 hijackers, seem highly disciplined and under control. They’ve stayed away from the District of Columbia, where security is tight and Potomac bridges make escape risky. They take one shot, aiming at the head or heart, and flee the scene. A man shot at a Manassas, Va., Sunoco station, for example, was felled by a bullet that entered the upper left part of his back. They appear to have pre-selected their targets to spread the greatest fear in the nation’s capital. Victims range in age (13 to 72), race and sex. Message: No one is safe – not even under a covered parking lot amid other shoppers, as they proved in the Home Depot assault.
They strike at day and at night – but not on weekends, ostensibly to breed panic among workers commuting into Washington Monday through Friday from the five bedroom communities where they’ve hit. It’s as if the snipers are “on a mission to shut down” the nation’s capital, observed one law-enforcement official. And it may be working: Many federal employees, including some at the Pentagon, have requested they be allowed to telecommute to work part of the week until the shootings stop, WorldNetDaily has learned.
By using common white delivery trucks and/or vans, snipers have spread law enforcement thin. Dragnets that have shut down major arteries in and out of the capital have proved fruitless. Some 200 detectives in the Washington area are working around the clock on the case. The FBI Terrorism Task Force has assigned agents. So have Maryland and Virginia state police. The Secret Service also is helping with the investigation, as WorldNetDaily first reported Oct 4. Next: The Pentagon is expected to help with aerial surveillance.
Snipers have managed to terrify America’s capital with just 11 strategic shots. Homecoming football games and SAT tests have been canceled. Drivers are afraid to pump gas. Shoppers brave enough to go out walk briskly across parking lots in zig-zag patterns. Schools are in indefinite “lock-down,” meaning kids can’t go outside for recess until the snipers are caught.
The shootings took place alongside a resurgence in al-Qaida terrorism. Successful smaller-scale attacks against Americans and other Westerners in Yemen, Kuwait and Indonesia were apparently praised in a letter penned by Osama bin Laden himself, who appears to have reemerged defiantly from the shadows.
“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.
Surveillance-and-detection teams in unmarked cars have been deployed to watch for snipers at locations and intersections around Washington that have been profiled as possible targets.
Authorities now suspect the so-called tarot card left near a Maryland school-shooting scene is more a “red herring” than a break in the case. Police still have not made the document public.
They also view the Michaels crafts store connection as nothing more than a coincidence. Michaels stores are located in shopping centers, such as the Seven Corners Shopping Center in Falls Church, where the Home Depot is also located. The snipers are targeting high-traffic areas such as shopping centers.
The task force did not get a good license plate number for the sniper van used in the Home Depot attack. “We have a lot of numbers,” said the ATF official. “That’s the problem.”
FBI agents are upset Moose is still running the investigation, and think the FBI should take over.
“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.”
Authorities aren’t sure anymore that the snipers are escaping shooting scenes on highways. They may be stationed locally and then draw back to nearby hideouts, which may explain how they’ve managed to slip dragnets.
It’s unlikely the administration will authorize National Guardsmen to help with roadblocks and other aspects of the investigation, because that would “tip the hand” that it’s terrorism and spook citizens, the ATF official confided.