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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Two Men Arrested At Maryland Rest Stop After Tip By Motorist

Aired October 24, 2002 - 07:08   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take our viewers back now to the point at which these arrests came much earlier this morning.
The two, who were taken into custody, were found sleeping in a car at a rest stop off of Interstate 70 near Myersville, Maryland, spotted by another quick-thinking motorist, an attendant on duty there.

Let's check in with Bob Franken, who is just across the street from the rest stop there.

Good morning -- Bob. I know that sources are telling us, close to the task force, the car has had a preliminary search. Do you know anything about what was found?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, as a matter of fact, there is some talk that, according to some sources, that there was a weapon spotted. But that has not been officially confirmed.

Now, what they're doing is they're waiting to get a search warrant for the vehicle, which, by the way, is in the rest stop right over there. You can see over my shoulder some state police cars and an evidence van that's going to be put back to work. It's been, of course, busy throughout much of the nighttime hours, going over this vehicle as much as the legalities allow.

But they are going to be looking for other weapons. They are going to be looking, of course, for fingerprints. They're going to be looking for DNA evidence -- all the type that you might expect as they try and resolve the Washington sniper case that has so terrorized the area for the last three weeks plus.

Now, just to give you an idea of where we are, we are about 50 miles north of Washington, about 40 miles to the south of Pennsylvania, in Myersville, Maryland. It's the kind of rest stop you see along any interstate highway.

As we've reported, it was about 1:00 a.m. the motorist, who had been hearing the reports, spotted the vehicle that had been -- as police had asked for people to look for. He called the state police. State police troopers arrived. They set up a surveillance team.

Then, the SWAT team started to assemble. This is a very methodical process, and they assembled nearby, very, very slowly, while the other state troopers kept their eye on the car as the men slept inside. This is a very sophisticated SWAT team. Of course, they have body armor and all of that. They got into position, and just about two hours after the initial report, they swooped onto the car. They made the arrests without incident, according to the state police.

The two were taken to Montgomery County, as Patty Davis pointed out, that they are at an undisclosed location. Montgomery County, of course, has been really the center of the investigation and tragically where so many of the shootings occurred, including the most recent one at a bus stop on Tuesday morning.

But they're hoping that at this rest stop, 50 miles away from Washington, they've gotten the break in the case which might end the sniper shootings -- Paula.

ZAHN: Once again, Bob, take us back to the point at which this motorist spotted this Caprice, and when this all came down.

FRANKEN: Well, the motorist was using the rest stop, just as so many people do who drive down interstate highways. He spotted it. He had heard the various broadcast reports. This is a Maryland resident. That's all we know about the motorist now. He had heard the reports. He had seen the -- heard the description of the car and the license plate and called the state police, made a 911 call.

The state police responded by sending out one or two troopers. They quickly called for the SWAT team, and then they, as I said, very tediously, very methodically planned their arrest, and they were able to pull it off without incident.

ZAHN: I guess the most extraordinary thing about this story is, we were told a little bit earlier this morning, this man stood by until the SWAT team got into place -- a pretty brave guy.

FRANKEN: Well, as a matter of fact, the police wanted him to stay, and they had not only shut off people getting into this area, but they also were keeping some of the other people who were in the rest stop in there, at least for a while.

ZAHN: Bob Franken, thanks so much. We'll be checking in with you throughout the morning.

In the meantime, let's go to Ed Lavandera, who is standing by in Frederick County, Maryland, with more on all of these latest developments.

Good morning -- Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

I think one of the interesting things to it, and to kind of advance everything that we've been saying here in the last couple of minutes, is that the 911 call to authorities here in Frederick County and the Maryland State Police that came from that motorist who had happened to come across this car and these two suspects, came in at 12:47. CNN had started reporting at 11:30 last night the suspect, the vehicle and the license plate information, and it was shortly after that that authorities in Montgomery County started releasing that information.

I think that goes a long way to just showing how quickly information was moving through this area throughout the evening, as we were driving around, and into the early-morning hours. Radio stations in this area broadcasting that information just around the minute. It was nonstop. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that this has helped authorities move so quickly in this particular situation.

And also, authorities here are saying that that motorist is from the Maryland area, and that it was a very interesting situation there that the motorist, and several other people who were in the rest stop area, were asked to stay there, to just remain in the area, remain calm, that they would need to stay there as the authorities and this tactical team moved into location.

Now, the troopers that first arrived onto the scene maintained the area, and maintained and secured the rest stop area. And authorities here in Frederick County are saying that if those two gentlemen had decided to wake up and tried to drive out of the rest stop area before the tactical team had gotten into place that they would have been pulled over immediately.

So, they were quick here to point out that at that point, as soon as they were spotted, there was no way they were going to get away from there tonight -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Ed Lavandera, appreciate that live update.

We are going to check in with Kelly McCann, who is a security analyst, to get his take on what we think has come down here now.

Kelly, we need to be very cautious here. Investigators are telling us not to make an assumption that we're looking at the snipers here. But I think it's also interesting to point out that Chief Moose in his early-morning news conference only said that John Allen Muhammad is not a suspect.

Should we read into that?

J. KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think at this time, Paula, we should. We probably could, and many have, but I think you're right on the money.

ZAHN: And right on the money is you think one of these guys is, in fact, a suspect even though he's not being called that?

MCCANN: I think that your sense as a journalist is keen.

ZAHN: Well, thank you for the compliment, and as we get a little more information, we'll try to figure out who these guys are.

Now, I know you've been doing a lot of television watching this morning. You've read some of the same stuff I've read out of "The Seattle Times," which paints a very interesting picture about who these two men are. And they apparently caught the interest of legal authorities in the Pacific Northwest.

What can you tell us about these guys, and what they may have been up to?

MCCANN: Well, the guys and the place -- you know, I mean, this has taken so many turns. If you think about Seattle, we know and have reported for, you know, many months that there was a sense about Seattle, that Seattle, the name kept coming up in communications, that something seemed to be going on out there, but it was unspecified.

We had Ujaama, who was a naval reservist, I believe, and was linked to the north London mosque with, you know, Hamza (ph) over there, where Richard Reid had been. He had been working in Bly, Oregon. It was assumed that he was running a training camp or was going to try to run a training out there.

Now, we have a training camp down in Alabama that is somehow linked to -- it goes on and on and on. But there certainly seems to be a synergy that's kind of unavoidable.

But still, this story could go one of three ways. It could go to a deranged individual, it could go to potentially terrorism, and then again, it could go to just monetary -- a mercenary guy.

I mean, it's just an incredible case.

ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit about what we do know about these two men who were arrested. According to "The Seattle Times," Muhammad and Malvo may have been motivated by anti-American sentiments in the wake of September 11.

The report goes on to say both were known to speak sympathetically about the men who attacked the United States. Neither man were believed, according to "The Seattle Times," to be associated with the al Qaeda terrorist network.

And once again, this morning, Police Chief Moose saying that John Allen Muhammad is not a suspect in the sniper case.

Let's try to put the pieces of this puzzle together.

MCCANN: I think it would be interesting to start with the service record. I mean, a service career is 20 years. At right around the time of the Afghan war, there was what's called a "stop loss" on. In other words, people from particular military units were prohibited from getting out, because of obviously -- keeping the manpower strengths up.

So, it would be interesting to learn why he only spent 15 years in, and if, in fact, he did get out despite a stop loss, or whether he was put out. And what kind of financial position that may have put him in unexpectedly. And if you link that with the way he possibly feels about the attacks on America and sympathizing with them, it could -- could paint a different picture than people had suspected.

ZAHN: "The Seattle Times" also saying that Mr. Muhammad did not have a clean break with the armed services, and they, according to "The Seattle Times," in interviews with a bunch of law enforcement officials, former wives and acquaintances created this picture of Muhammad, a Muslim convert and former Fort Lewis soldier, sympathetic to Islamic terrorists.

MCCANN: Well, remember, too, that we know that from recruiting techniques that some of the most vehement fundamentalists have been previous malcontents. If you think about the individual that was taken from a Chicago street gang, and then later was trying to figure out how to manage a dirty bomb -- there is one example. And we've seen that as a consistent theme.

So again, I really have -- I don't want to join into, you know, the theory game, but it seems to be painting a pretty decent picture right now that this may be linked to something larger.

ZAHN: Yes, I also want to say one other thing that "The Seattle Times" is reporting this morning, that Mr. Muhammad was a man who had gone through at least two wives with bitter custody battles over his children. And a neighbor who was friendly described him as being a control freak who kidnapped his own children.

MCCANN: And if we think back about some of the things that our own Casey Jordan has been talking about, the power of control kind of typology, there is many interesting links here. But again, the chief has said, you know, that he was not a suspect.

ZAHN: All right, thank you very much, Kelly McCann. We'll be coming back to you throughout the morning.

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