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Gun ballistic match for sniper rifle

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Gun ballistic match for sniper rifle

http://www.msnbc.com/news/816566.asp?vts=102520020109

Oct. 24 — The gun found in the car seized when authorities arrested a former soldier and a teenager at a Maryland rest stop is a ballistic match with the weapon used by the Washington, D.C.-area sniper, authorities said late Thursday. The weapon found in the car of the sniper suspects has been linked to 11 of the 13 Washington-area attacks.

BALLISTICS TESTS on the gun found inside the car matched the bullets and shell casings used by the sniper, law enforcement sources told NBC News’ David Bloom. The match was confirmed later by Mike Bouchard, special agent of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Bouchard said the rifle “has been forensically tested to be the weapon†used in 11 of the 13 attacks.

The arrested men, identified as John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, were arraigned Thursday in federal court in Baltimore on unrelated charges. Sources told NBC News the evidence against them in the sniper case included the rifle — the same caliber as the gun used in the killings — and the car in which they were found sleeping, which had been modified to allow a shooter to sight and fire through the trunk without being easily seen.

Malvo was arraigned as a material witness because he had refused to cooperate with authorities. Muhammad was arraigned on an outstanding weapons warrant unrelated to the sniper case.

In papers filed in the court Thursday, Muhammad is quoted as saying: “Can you imagine the damage you could do if you could shoot with a silencer?â€

OTHER CHARGES POSSIBLE

Oct. 24 — Police recovered from the suspect’s car a .223 caliber Bushmaster, a tripod and a scope. NBC’s Jim Avila tonight on the Bushmaster.

Prosecutors said they planned to meet Friday to discuss other charges, presumably involving the sniper killings.

Malvo appeared in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before Magistrate Judge James R. Vredar in a sealed courtroom, court officials told NBC News. He was given two court-appointed attorneys and time to consult with them before returning to the courtroom, said the officials, who would give no further details about the proceedings.

Muhammad was also brought to the courthouse under heavy guard.

NBC’s Pete Williams reported that police searched the car and found a Bushmaster rifle, one of the guns officials said is capable of firing a .223-caliber bullet — the type used in the sniper slayings. The rifle was test-fired to compare the bullets to those recovered from the sniper victims.

Williams reported that the gun was an XM-15 A3M4, a semiautomatic civilian version of the U.S. military’s M-16 assault rifle made by Bushmaster Firearms, a private company in Windham, Me.

Richard Dyke, the chairman of Bushmaster, told investigators Thursday that the serial number they gave him indicated that the weapon was an XM-15 A3M4 rifle that Bushmaster sold in June to a distributor in Washington state, the New York Times reported on its Web site.

Law-enforcement sources told Williams that the car had been modified to make it easy for a person to shoot from the car without being detected. The back seat could be lowered and the trunk opened for a clear shot from the back of the car, the sources said.

The Associated Press reported that a rifle scope and tripod were also found in the car.

Initial reports said Muhammad is Malvo’s stepfather, but federal sources later said that was not clear.

Williams and NBC’s Bloom cited sources as saying Malvo and Muhammad were tied to the sniper attacks by several leads:

A Tacoma, Wash., home where Muhammad once lived was searched Wednesday, and investigators found bullet fragments, as well as a tree stump that had been used for target practice.

A caller to the FBI tip line trying to convince authorities he was the sniper told them to look into a Montgomery, Ala., shooting in September. Montgomery police were notified Sunday, and the city’s mayor said Thursday that a fingerprint from Malvo was eventually detected on a magazine about weapons found near that scene.

Malvo’s fingerprints reportedly were also found on a piece of paper at one of the sniper crime scenes.

A Jamaican bank account provided by the person communicating with police was tied to Malvo, said to have been born in Jamaica.

A TIP FROM TACOMA

Oct. 24 — As NBC’s Bob Faw reports, the community is relieved and determined to put the pieces back together.

In addition, investigators received a tip from a Tacoma-area phone, Mayor Bill Baarsma told NBC affiliate KING-TV in Seattle.

“Someone in this area tipped off the FBI, indicating that at least from their perspective that these two individuals, there were some problems here, there was something about them that just didn’t seem to be right,†he said. “And there were some reference and some comments that apparently had been made, and from that it was determined who the individuals were; then it started really breaking fast.â€

A source told The Seattle Times that a friend of Muhammad’s and Malvo’s made the call, saying he “had suspicions†about the two.

The tipster reportedly said the two sometimes took target practice at the Tacoma home even though it is in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood.

The source added that the tipster said the two fired a rifle that uses .223-caliber bullets.

Authorities appear to have missed a chance to apprehend Muhammad six days after the shooting spree began. In the predawn hours of Oct. 8, the day after a 13-year-old boy was wounded in Bowie, Md., Baltimore police approached the Chevrolet Caprice that was seized early Thursday and found Muhammad sleeping, according to Regina Alvarado, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore police. The car was parked in a lot near an on-ramp to Interstate 83.

Muhammad was not held, but his name and the vehicle were put into a police database, sources told the Washington Post.

“Everyone was looking for a white car with white people,†said a police source, according to the Post.

HOW MEN WERE TAKEN

Muhammad and Malvo were taken into custody at 3:19 a.m. ET Thursday after a motorist at a rest stop spotted a car for which police had issued an all-points bulletin just three hours earlier. The alert included a vehicle description and license plate number.

The motorist called police around 1 a.m., and a SWAT team quickly converged on the scene to swoop down on the men.

Police closed a portion of Interstate 70 near Myersville while they seized Muhammad and Malvo as they slept in a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice. Police said they were taken into custody without incident.

The men were then taken to Montgomery County, where the sniper investigation is based.

“There’s a strong feeling these people are related to the sniper shootings,†said Douglas Gansler, the state attorney for Montgomery County. Asked if he believed the sniper was still at large, he said “no.â€

But two senior federal law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that investigators haven’t ruled out the possibility that others gave them some help, in the form of vehicles or other support.

The car is registered to Muhammad in New Jersey — but also lists another man as a co-owner. Nothing more is known about the man at this time.

WASHINGTON STATE TIE

The arrests came amid a flurry of activity in the investigation of the sniper attacks, in which 10 people have been killed and three wounded since Oct. 2.

The nationwide alert for the men and their vehicle was issued shortly after authorities descended on a home in Tacoma that Muhammad had lived in recently.

Oct. 24 — NBC News correspondents detail the whirlwind of police activity leading to the arrest of two men in Maryland.

NBC’s Robert Windrem reported that Army records show Muhammad had been stationed in Germany; Saudi Arabia; Fort Ord, Calif.; and Fort Lewis, Wash., which is near Tacoma, during 10 years of service that ended in 1995. His Saudi tour was during the Gulf War, and at the time of his discharge he was a sergeant.

Defense sources told NBC that Muhammad had served as a combat engineer. But he also once received the Army’s highest-level marksmanship award, the sources said.

A neighbor of the Tacoma home said he had heard shots regularly fired in the area in January. “It sounded like a high-powered rifle such as an M-16,†said Pfc. Chris Waters, a soldier at Fort Lewis. “Never more than three shots at a time. Pow. Pow. Pow.â€

Waters said he called police after hearing gunshots in January.

‘NOT ACTING WITH ANY GROUP’

Malvo, who authorities said is a citizen of Jamaica, attended high school in Bellingham, Wash., last year.

Bellingham police Chief Randy Carroll told reporters Thursday that he had just spoken to an FBI investigator and that “I can tell you that in the Bellingham area, and in relation to the case, it appears that these people that have been taken into custody are not acting with any group or with any organized group of people. It appears they are and have acted on their own.â€

Several federal sources told The Seattle Times that Muhammad and Malvo may have been motivated by anti-American sentiments in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Both were known to speak sympathetically about the men who hijacked the jetliners that crashed near Washington and in New York and Pennsylvania, the sources said.

But neither man was believed to be associated with the al-Qaida terrorist network, the sources said.

Muhammad had changed his last name from Williams last year and had converted to Islam many years earlier, the sources told the Times.

MESSAGE TO SNIPER

Oct. 24 — NBC’s Don Teague reports on the connection between a Montgomery, Ala., murder and the Washington-area sniper.

A few hours before the men were taken into custody, Montgomery County police Chief Charles Moose, speaking as much to the sniper as to the assembled press corps, offered another message to the person believed responsible for the killings.

“We understand you communicated with us by calling several different locations,†Moose said. “Our inability to talk has been a concern for us as it has been for you. You have indicated that you want us to do and say certain things. You asked us to say, ‘We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.’ We understand that hearing us say this is important to you.

“However, we want you to know how difficult it has been to understand what you want because you have chosen to use only notes, indirect messages and calls to other jurisdictions,†Moose continued. “The solution remains to call us and get a private toll-free number established just for you.â€

After mentioning the P.O. box opened for communication from the public, Moose said, “If you are reluctant to contact us, be assured that we remain ready to talk directly with you. Our word is our bond.â€

NBC’s Tammy Kupperman. MSNBC’s Mark Stevenson, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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