FBI Extends Bank Terror Alert
W A S H I N G T O N, April 22 — The FBI said today its warning about possible terrorist attacks on banks in the Northeast remains in effect, although the government has no new information that would substantiate reports of any specific threats or plots.
The public alert was being "constantly evaluated" and FBI agents were investigating any potential leads before senior U.S. officials will decide whether to cancel the warning, FBI spokesman Bill Carter said. He could not say how long that might take.
The FBI on Friday urged more than 1,200 banks in 12 Northeastern states onto heightened security. Authorities said the unconfirmed information that prompted the alert came in part from a high-ranking al Qaeda leader in U.S. custody.
The warning of what the FBI described as possible "physical attacks" was based in part on information from Abu Zubaydah, the highest-ranking al Qaeda terrorist leader in U.S. custody, two officials said, but it was unclear if he was telling the truth. They said he could be lying in an effort to create a panic.
Zubaydah is alleged to have been one of Osama bin Laden's top planners of terrorist operations, with knowledge of al Qaeda plots and operational cells. He was captured in Pakistan on March 28 and is recovering from three gunshot wounds he received in the raid.
There were no reports of any bank closings Friday or today in response to the alert.
The FBI warning went to more than 1,200 banks and savings institutions and to law enforcement in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia.
—The Associated Press
Tampa Plane-High Rise Wreck Surprised FAA
W A S H I N G T O N, April 22 — The first indication to air traffic controllers that a student pilot had smashed a stolen plane into a Tampa office building came from a high-pitched emergency beacon on the aircraft.
Until then, controllers knew only of an unauthorized flight, and that the Coast Guard was tracking it, according to air traffic control tapes released today by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The communication tapes from Tampa air traffic controllers do not indicate that they made any attempt to contact the student pilot, Charles Bishop, 15, who stole a Cessna from a flight school at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport on Jan. 5. He ended up crashing the plane into the 28th floor of a downtown Tampa office building. He had been taking flying lessons at the school.
The crash raised fears of another terrorist attack, since hijacked planes flew into the World Trade Center and struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, but authorities later said the pilot committed suicide.
The first indication that something was amiss came at 4:52 p.m. ET when controllers at St. Petersburg called their Tampa colleagues and alerted them.
"That's a Cessna departed here unauthorized. We don't know what he's doing. He just took off," the St. Petersburg controller said, asking Tampa to have him call if they got in touch with him.
But according to the transcript, there was no indication the controllers ever tried to call the plane.
At 5:02 p.m., a Coast Guard helicopter told the Tampa controllers that it was chasing the plane.
"We're trying to give him hand signals to maybe get him to land," the Coast Guard told the controller. "However, he doesn't seem to be responding."
A minute later, the transmitter sounded, signaling the crash. The Tampa airport then stopped all departures. Not until two minutes later did the Tampa controller ask the Coast Guard pilot if he knew what building the pilot flew into.
"Bank of America building, about two-thirds of the way up the building," the pilot responded.
Bishop left a note expressing sympathy for Osama bin Laden and supporting the Sept. 11 attacks. Though he said in the note that al Qaeda terrorists tried to recruit him, a police report said there was no truth to the claim.
Police said Bishop committed suicide, not a terrorist act. The Hillsborough County medical examiner's office ruled the death a suicide based on the information it received from law enforcement agencies.
The incident spurred the FAA to push for stronger security at smaller airports and flight schools. The FAA in January suggested that airport operators and flight schools require separate ignition and door keys for private planes; secure planes so they cannot be flown without permission; have student pilots check in before getting keys; and train employees and pilots to look for suspicious activity.
And in April, the agency said it was drafting a rule to require pilots of private planes to carry photo identification cards. Existing federal regulations do not require pilots to show a photo ID when renting a small private plane.
—The Associated Press