Pair Seized in Sniper Attacks; Gun in Car Tied to 11 Shootings

By Carol Morello, Christian Davenport and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 25, 2002

A military-style rifle allegedly seized from two suspects in the Washington area sniper attacks was used in at least 11 of the 13 shootings, authorities announced last night, signaling the end of a three-week siege in which a seemingly faceless gunman terrified the region by killing indiscriminately.

"We have not given in to the terror," said Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose, a leader of the law enforcement task force hunting for the sniper. "Yes, we've all experienced anxiety. But in the end, resiliency has won out."

The fear that had pervaded the region -- forcing schoolchildren behind locked doors and turning mundane outdoor ventures into a test of nerves -- began to dissipate as news of the day's events filtered out. By last night, police had put a face to the man they suspect was responsible for the deaths of 10 people.

The two suspects are an apparently penniless Army veteran of the Persian Gulf War and his teenage companion, whose strange cross-country journey from Washington state ended early yesterday at an Interstate 70 rest stop in Maryland. The pair, arrested while sleeping in a car, had not been charged in the attacks as of last night. But authorities left no doubt that they intend to prosecute John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, in the deadly series of stealth attacks, which began Oct. 2.

"Tonight, people in the Washington metropolitan region are breathing a collective sigh of relief," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, appearing with law enforcement officials last night at a news conference in Rockville, where the manhunt for the Washington area sniper was based.

Moose said that "prosecutors from all the involved jurisdictions" will meet "to discuss the filing of charges" against the two. Meanwhile, Muhammad was ordered held without bail yesterday on a federal weapons charge, and the youth is being detained as a material witness in the sniper investigation.

Much about the pair remains a mystery, including any motive for the attacks. The two had been living in Washington state, and it is unclear why they allegedly chose to make the nation's capital and its suburbs their killing ground. Their relationship is also unclear, and it is unknown whether authorities suspect one or both of having pulled the trigger in the attacks.

Contrary to a theory that prompted wide speculation, no evidence has emerged that Muhammad or Malvo is connected to a terrorist organization, law enforcement sources said. But detectives are examining reports from acquaintances that Muhammad may have sympathized with Osama bin Laden and applauded the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

According to court papers connected to the federal gun charge, Muhammad fantasized about the damage he could do with an assault rifle equipped with a silencer.

Robert Holmes, a former roommate in Tacoma, Wash., told federal authorities that during a visit four months ago, Muhammad showed off an AR-15 assault rifle with a scope, which he carried in an aluminum briefcase. Muhammad and "an associate" said they were taking the gun to the range to "zero it," or align the scope so the rifle would shoot accurately.

Holmes said Muhammed and his companion had a book on making a silencer and said, "Can you imagine the damage you could do if you could shoot with a silencer?"

A Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, which fires .223-caliber rounds and was found in the suspects' vehicle, has been "forensically determined to be the murder weapon," said Mike Bouchard of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

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