Sniper suspects held

The Bushmaster semi-automatic AR-15 .223 caliber assault rifle found in an army veteran’s car yesterday is the same weapon used in the 13 assassination-style shootings that have gripped the mid-Atlantic region in a state of fear over the past three weeks, said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Special Agent Mike Bouchard.

The AR-15 is the civilian version of the M-16, the weapon John Allen Williams, 42, trained with in the military.

As such, according to Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose, the sniper task force is “very confident” that Williams, also known as John Allen Muhammad, may be responsible for the shooting spree that claimed 10 lives and left three people wounded since Oct. 2.

“We feel very positive about being here,” Moose said during a rainy, cold Thursday night press conference in front of about 1,200 media members.

Williams, along with John Lee Malvo, 17, was apprehended after police said Wednesday night that the pair was wanted for federal firearms charges unrelated to the shooting spree. During the spree, the elusive greater Washington, D.C.-area serial killer was able to fire his weapon and escape unnoticed and unscathed by hundreds of local, state and federal authorities.

Authorities said there are three other shootings that appear to be linked to the sniper through evidence other than ballistics. Investigation is ongoing in those cases. They did not specify if one was a double shooting at a Montgomery, Ala., liquor store on Sept. 21 that left one woman dead and another wounded.

John Allen Muhammad, 41 — arrested with 17-year-old John Lee Malvo — appeared in court, and was ordered held without bail. Malvo is held as a material witness.

Malvo is considered by the court to be a juvenile, and all of his proceedings are closed. Police said he was being held as a material witness, pending charges, and they did not identify him.

Muhammad changed his name last year from John Allen Williams, years after he converted to Islam, investigators told the The Seattle Times.

Police were apparently led to Williams and Malvo based on a call the sniper made to the tip-line about an incident in “Montgomery.”

After a priest called the tip-line stating he had received a call about a shooting in Montgomery, Ala., police apparently connected the two calls, anonymous sources said.

Moose, flanked by task force leaders from every involved jurisdiction, including Prince William Police Chief Charlie Deane, would not release Malvo’s name due to his juvenile status.

Around 1 a.m. Thursday, Maryland authorities received a 911 call from a motorist at a rest area in Frederick County, Md., off Interstate 70, which alerted state police to the men’s location. Troopers confirmed the blue, 1990 Chevrolet Caprice with New Jersey license plates NDA-21Z was indeed the car they were looking for. SWAT teams were then called out. They prepared in a staging area before making the arrest “without incident” at around 3:16 a.m.

Moose said Wednesday night that Williams and Malvo should be considered “armed and extremely dangerous.”The Caprice was impounded and towed in a closed, white trailer to a facility in Gaithersburg, Md., where it was processed for evidence. During that search, two holes were reportedly discovered in the back of the car, from where Williams may have fired the AR-15 at his victims, anonymous law enforcement sources said Thursday.

That possibility may explain why the sniper was able to escape every shooting scene without being caught, or even spotted, although police have not officially confirmed this report.

Investigators now believe reports of white box trucks and panel vans to be either erroneous or incidental. Williams drove the Caprice during the length of the entire three weeks and was even found sleeping in it in Baltimore, according to reports by The Associated Press.

He was discounted however, because of a search for a white box truck or panel van. Williams has many traffic violations, including speeding and running red lights, and was even stopped at a roadblock after one of the shootings. Authorities, however, never searched his vehicle.

Moose’s eyes swelled with tears as he spoke of the sniper’s victims and their families. Moose refused to say whether Williams, who is considered a suspect, or Malvo, who is considered a material witness, have a legal residence in the Washington, D.C., region. He also would not comment on any potential motives police may have discovered during Thursday interrogations, if Williams is indeed the killer.

FBI agents visited Bellingham High School, 90 miles north of Seattle, on Wednesday. Mayor Mark Asmundson said Muhammad and Malvo had been in the area until about nine months ago.

A senior law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said police believe Malvo became like an informal stepson to Muhammad because Muhammad had a relationship with the boy’s mother and for a time the three lived together as a family.

Malvo attended high school in Bellingham last year.

Prosecutors from all involved jurisdictions will meet today to determine what charges to file against Williams and Malvo, in addition to where and how to prosecute them.

Staff writer Daniel Drew can be reached at (703) 878-8065.

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