New York Post
September 22, 1996
TWA Probers: Missile Witnesses "Credible"
By MURRAY WEISS
Criminal Justice Editor
More than 150 "credible" witnesses -- including several scientists -- have told the FBI and military experts they saw a missile destroy TWA Flight 800, The Post has learned. Sources provided startling new details from the frustrating two-month probe -- persuading agents to acknowledge that the witnesses' accounts point toward a missile:
The FBI interviewed 154 "credible" witnesses -- including scientists, schoolteachers, Army personnel and business executives -- who described seeing a missile heading through the sky just before Flight TWA 800 exploded. "Some of these people are extremely, extremely credible," a top federal official said.
Sources said the witnesses lived or were vacationing along Long Island's South Shore in Nassau and Suffolk counties when they saw the object heading toward the sky. "When we asked what they saw and where they saw it, the witnesses out east pointed to the west, and the people to the west pointed to the east ," one source said. FBI technicians mapped the various paths -- points in the sky where the witnesses said they saw the rising "flare-like" object -- and determined that the "triangulated" convergence point was virtually where the jumbo jet initially exploded. Struck by the number and confidence of the witnesses, the FBI sat down many of the witnesses with U.S. military experts, who debriefed them and independently confirmed for the FBI that their descriptions matched surface-to-air missile attacks.
"The military experts told us that what the witnesses were describing was consistent with a missile," a federal official acknowledged. "They told us, "You know what they are describing is a missile.' " Law-enforcement sources said the hardest evidence gathered so far overwhelmingly suggests a surface-to-air missile -- with the sophisticated ability to lock on the center of a target rather than its red-hot engines -- was fired from a boat off the Long Island coast to bring down the airliner July 17. That theory would have the attackers launching their missile from a boat and fleeing north into Canada during the confusion immediately after the explosion.
Investigators are reviewing an anonymous threat received after
the Oct. 1, 1995, conviction of radical sheik Omar Abdel Rahman,
a law-enforcement source said. The threat was that a New York
area airport or jetliner would be attacked in retaliation for the
prosecution of the sheik, convicted of plotting to blow up major
New York City landmarks.
Investigators have been unable to find definitive evidence proving any of their three key theories: missile, bomb planted in the plane or a mechanical malfunction. On Friday, the bomb theory took another tumble when the FBI revealed the plane had carried explosives within a year of the crash as part of a training exercise for drug-sniffing dogs. That revelation could explain how traces of explosives were found on wreckage of the downed Boeing 747.
The overriding obstacle for investigators probing the missle theory has been the fact that Flight 800's engines show no signs of missile damage.
But military experts told the FBI several modern heat-seeking missiles -- in the hands of terrorists in Africa and available to their Middle East counterparts -- target a plane's "central mass." These missiles -- launched from a shoulder harness or a small pad -- different from the Stinger missiles that Afgani freedom fighters used against the Russians -- are equipped with a super-sophisticated heat- seeking device and are able to reach higher targets.
TWA 800 exploded at 13,700 feet -- the upper limit for the newest of these portable-type missile systems. Military experts pointed the FBI to man-portable missiles such as the SA -14 Gremlin, SA-16 Gimlet and SA-18 Grouse -- equipped with "proportional convergence logic" systems that are "sensitive enough to home in on airframe radiation" once it nears its target, rather than isolated hot spots.
Copyright 1996, N.Y.P. Holdings Inc.
September 23, 1996
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