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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Police arrest sniper suspects
Rest area where suspects were arrested
Police swooped on the rest stop after a tip-off
The hunt for the sniper who has terrorised the Washington area appears to be over.

US police believe that two men arrested in Maryland could be responsible for the shootings.

The state attorney in Maryland's Montgomery County, Douglas Gansler, told a radio station: "There is a strong feeling these people are related to the sniper shootings."

John Allen Muhammad
John Allen Muhammad was said to be armed and dangerous
Asked if he believed the sniper was still at large, he said: "No."

The two men were detained in a car at a highway rest stop on Thursday morning.

US media reports also say a rifle was found in the car, a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice.

And the Associated Press news agency has reported that a senior official in President George W Bush's administration said that the FBI was "reasonably sure" that the case had been solved.

Correspondents say the day's events could be the major breakthrough in the case and could provide great relief to the people of the Washington area.

Ten people have been killed and three others wounded in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC since the sniper attacks began on 2 October.

Police have not officially stated that the arrested men, described as African-Americans, are suspects.

Open in new window : Trail of terror
Map showing location of recent attacks

On Wednesday, they issued warrants for the arrest of John Allen Muhammad, 42, and 17-year-old John Malvo.

Officers said they were armed and dangerous, but Police Chief Charles Moose warned "not to assume they were involved in the shootings".

They were wanted on charges of firearms violations, though police said they also wanted to speak to them about the sniper killings.

Then early on Thursday, police converged on the rest stop on Interstate 70 in Frederick County - about 70 kilometres (40 miles) north-west of the US capital, closing a long section of the highway.

A pupil leaves Brookhaven Elementary School
The sniper has terrorised communities around Washington DC

Police had said they were looking for a Caprice with New Jersey licence plates three hours before the arrests were made.

Major Greg Shipley, a Maryland state police spokesman, said that at about 0100 a motorist at the rest stop alerted the police to a car that matched the description.

"Shortly after 0330 this morning, a tactical response team arrested two individuals from that vehicle who were sleeping in the vehicle who were taken into custody without incident," he said.

The car has been taken away for examination.

Yard search

Earlier, FBI agents conducted a major search at a house in Tacoma, Washington state, 3,200 kilometres (2,000 miles) from the capital.

Mr Muhammad is believed to have served in the army at a base near Tacoma and to have lived in the house.

Fort Lewis, south of the town, provides some of the most intensive sniper training in the US military, correspondents say.

Local television showed FBI agents and other officers searching the yard of the house with metal detectors and chainsaws, combing the soil and a large tree stump in an apparent search for bullets and metal fragments.

Alabama link

A spokesman for Fort Lewis base could not confirm if Mr Muhammad had lived at the address.

In another development, police are investigating a possible link between the sniper and a killing in Montgomery, Alabama.

A 52-year-old woman was shot and killed outside a liquor store there on 21 September. Another woman was wounded.

Reports suggested that a fingerprint of one of the two arrested men had been found on police evidence at the scene.

The BBC's Lisa Hampele
"The federal authorities are reasonably sure the case has been solved"
The BBC's Katty Kay in Rockville, Maryland
"There is going to be no discussion about charges until tomorrow"
Bellingham Police Chief Randy Carroll
"It appears they have acted on their own"

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Trail of terror
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23 Oct 02 | Americas
23 Oct 02 | Americas
22 Oct 02 | Americas
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