NEW YORK — ALTHOUGH police have made an early arrest of a Palestinian allegedly involved in the World Trade Center bombing, many questions about the blast remain unanswered.
"What were the goals and motives of his group? Were they tied to politics in the Middle East or politics here?" asks Gregory Gause, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
While all the suspects arrested so far are of Middle Eastern origin, some experts caution against trying to find a central foreign terrorism source, such as Iran or Iraq. It is possible that the individuals involved in the World Trade Center bombing were "freelancing," says James Bill, director of the Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William and Mary. [View from Arab world, Pages 2, 3.]
The police and Federal Bureau of Investigation continue searching for more participants in the bombing. On March 4, they arrested Mohammed Salameh, a Palestinian with a Jordanian passport who had overstayed a tourist visa and was living in Jersey City, N.J.
Mr. Salameh was nabbed after he tried to get a $400 cash deposit back on a rented Ford Econoline van. A computer analysis of bomb fragments turned up the van's identification number and led authorities to believe it was the vehicle used in the Feb. 26 bombing, which killed five people and injured more than 1,000. Police make progress
Over the weekend, police made still more progress, discovering bombmaking materials at the address Salameh listed on his rental-car form as his home. In addition, police discovered explosives material in a New Jersey locker rented to Salameh.
While police have released three men arrested last week in connection with the bombing, Ibraham Elgabrowny, an associate of Salameh, is being held without bail on charges of obstructing justice. He allegedly battled two FBI agents trying to arrest him and then plunged his hands into a toilet bowl to thwart explosive-tracing tests.
Both Mr. Elgabrowny and Salameh are linked to a mosque in Jersey City. They are allegedly followers of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, a fundamentalist Egyptian cleric who called for the murder of President Anwar Sadat. Sheikh Rahman entered the US on a falsified tourist visa in May 1990, and the US government is now trying to deport him.
Police also will be probing the link, if any, between Salameh and El Sayyid Nosair, a former worshiper in the sheikh's mosque in Brooklyn and reportedly a visitor to the mosque in Jersey City. Mr. Nosair was convicted of weapons and assault charges connected to the 1990 slaying of radical Rabbi Meir Kahane.
Another worshiper at the Jersey City mosque was Ibraham El Gawli, an Egyptian-born travel agent who was arrested by US Customs officials in 1985. He has reportedly been released from prison after serving a sentence for trying to smuggle 150 pounds of C-4 explosives and other weapons to the Palestine Liberation Organization for use in Israel.
As investigators dig into the case, Mr. Bill says, they are likely to find it "a complicated mosaic that fades in and out and in which even the pieces are unclear and constantly trying to transform themselves kaleidoscopically."
The identification of physical clues, such as determining the type of explosives used, will be only one small part of the current investigation, says Brian Jenkins of Kroll Associates, a corporate security agency.
Mr. Jenkins says police probably will set up a complete duplication of the underground basement of the Trade Center. The mock-up garage, probably put together in a warehouse or airplane hanger, will look exactly as the actual Trade Center garage did just before the explosion occurred, he says. Parallel investigations
Parallel investigative paths, he says, will include "standard police procedures" - attempting to track the day-to-day operations of the people believed involved in the crime - as well as international intelligence work to determine how this particular bombing may fit into operations by terrorists abroad.
Key to whether or not police succeed in completely unraveling the case may be how well federal and local law enforcement agencies - including the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the New York City Police Department - work together. Part of the reason for the quick work in this case to date is that law enforcement agencies have been cooperating, knowledgeable observers say.
"Normally every department wants to grab the credit in a case like this. But this time, apparently all the agencies did work together, and very well," says a spokesman for the National Association of Chiefs of Police in Washington.