The top law enforcement official in the United States says authorities are pursuing thousands of leads in the investigation of Tuesday's deadly terrorist attacks at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York.
Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared on the morning television news shows (Thursday). He said the Justice Department believes it has made progress in the investigation, but he declined to give more specific information.
Thousands of federal agents and support personnel have been deployed throughout the country, tracking many of those leads. Mr. Ashcroft called it the largest investigation in the history of the United States.
Other news agencies are quoting sources at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who say as many as 50 people may have been involved in the terrorist plot.
Mr. Ashcroft said 12 to 24 hijackers took over the four planes that crashed. Two of those planes plowed into New York's World Trade Center towers, while another crashed into the Pentagon outside Washington. A fourth hit the ground in (the eastern state of) Pennsylvania.
F-B-I chief Robert Mueller says agents have identified many of the hijackers. They have been linked in news reports to suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
The U-S investigation stretches from the Canadian border to Florida, where Mr. Ashcroft said some of the terrorists learned to fly commercial planes before the attacks. He said the search is under way for accomplices of the hijackers still in the country.
Authorities have detained several people in Massachusetts and Florida on unrelated charges, and are reported to be questioning them about possible ties to the hijackers.