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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 22:05 GMT 23:05 UK
Police arrest sniper suspects
Law enforcement officers, watch as a car bearing New Jersey license plate number NDA-21Z is pushed into a garage
The car has now been towed off for further tests
The hunt for the sniper who has terrorised the Washington area appears to be over after the arrest of two men.

Officials say a rifle capable of firing the bullets used to shoot the 13 sniper victims was recovered from a car where the two were found sleeping.

The two suspects have appeared in court - one of them, former soldier John Allen Muhammad, was charged on firearms violations.

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."

Asked if he believed the sniper was still at large, he said: "No".

Former soldier

Federal officials said the lesser charge of firearms offence was seen as a way to keep him in jail while more evidence was sought in the sniper case.

John Allen Muhammad, 42, and his stepson John Malvo, 17, are African-American in origin.

John Allen Muhammad
John Allen Muhammad was said to be armed and dangerous
Mr Muhammad is an "expert" rifle marksmen who served in the army for 10 years, according to the US Department for Defense. He was deployed during the Gulf War.

He is also known to be a convert to Islam.

The arrests came only hours after a nationwide hunt was launched for the two men.

Officers are thought to have been pursuing leads in Alabama when the news broke.

The police are investigating a possible link between the men and a robbery at an Alabama liquor store, in which one woman member of staff was shot dead.

Reports suggest that a fingerprint of one of the two arrested men had been found at the scene.

'No longer at large'

The police have not charged the two men with the shootings, but Mr Muhammad is to appear before a court later on Thursday accused of violating US gun laws.

The state attorney for Montgomery County and the US attorney for Maryland are scheduled to meet on Friday to discuss filing criminal charges.

A senior official in President George W Bush's administration is reported to have said that the FBI was "reasonably sure" the case had been solved.

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

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.

An aerial view of the highway rest stop
The men were found sleeping in their car
Warrants were issued for the two men on Wednesday.

Then early on Thursday, police converged on their vehicle - a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice - on Interstate 70 in Frederick County, about 70 kilometres (40 miles) north-west of the US capital.

"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," said Major Greg Shipley, a Maryland state police spokesman.

The Washington Post, citing police sources, say investigators found a hole carved in the car which would enable somebody to lie in the back and shoot without being seen.

House search

Earlier, FBI agents conducted a major search at a house in Tacoma, Washington state, around 3,700 kilometres (2,300 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.

On Wednesday, FBI agents spent hours at the Tacoma home, eventually carting away a tree stump from the yard and other potential evidence.

The stump may have been used for target practice, and law enforcement sources said they believed it might contain bullets or fragments.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Matt Frei reports from Washington
"Today it was police snipers who held sway on the roads"
Bellingham Police Chief Randy Carroll
"It appears they have acted on their own"

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Trail of terror
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See also:

23 Oct 02 | Americas
23 Oct 02 | Americas
22 Oct 02 | Americas
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