FREDERICK, Md. (AP) -- A 42-year-old Army veteran and a teen-ager from Jamaica were arrested at a roadside rest stop Thursday for questioning in the three-week wave of deadly sniper attacks that have terrorized the Washington, D.C., area. A law enforcement source said a gun was found in their car.
The arrests -- linked to a telephoned boast about a deadly Alabama robbery -- raised hopes of a conclusion to the intensive and often frustrating investigation of the shootings that have killed 10 people and critically wounded three others since Oct. 2.
The men taken into custody were not immediately charged in the sniper attacks, but authorities made it clear the arrests were considered pivotal. A newspaper report said the men were motivated by anti-American bias; police in Washington state, where the men recently lived, said they were not part of any organized group.
A federal law enforcement source said authorities recovered a weapon, believed to be a rifle, from the suspects' car. The source did not have details about the gun or whether it was a .223-caliber like the weapon or weapons used in the sniper shootings.
President Bush was told that federal authorities were reasonably sure the case had been solved, a senior administration official told The Associated Press, also on condition of anonymity.
"There's a strong feeling these people are related to the sniper shootings," said Douglas Gansler, state's attorney in Maryland's Montgomery County, where the sniper task force is based. Asked if he believed the sniper was still at large, he said "no."
The arrests occurred hours after authorities descended on a home in Tacoma, Wash., believed to hold clues important to the investigation. They then issued a nationwide alert for the car, spotted by a motorist and an attendant at the rest stop.
Charles Moose, the Montgomery County police chief who is leading the investigation, had said John Allen Muhammad, 42, was being sought for questioning in the slayings and called him "armed and dangerous." Authorities said Muhammad was traveling with John Lee Malvo, 17.
Muhammad served in the Army as a machinist and had no training as a sniper, according to a senior defense official. Another official said Muhammad was discharged from the Army in the mid-1990s.
The key break, authorities said, was a phone call to the sniper task force tip line suggesting investigators check out a liquor store robbery in "Montgomery." The caller claimed credit for both the robbery and the sniper shootings, officials said.
Investigators checking the tip matched it with a Sept. 21 liquor store robbery in Montgomery, Ala., in which two employees were shot, one fatally. Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright said Malvo's fingerprint was found at the scene on a magazine about weapons, though he did not specify whether the print was found before or after the telephone call.
Police traced Malvo to the home in Tacoma that was searched Wednesday by authorities looking into the sniper shootings. Malvo had been living in the home with Muhammad, a source told the AP.
A composite sketch of the suspect in the liquor-store shootings was made and "there are some very good similarities" to Malvo, Montgomery Police Chief John Wilson said. He said the gun used in Alabama was not the same as the one in the Washington, D.C.-area shootings, however.
Members of the sniper task force arrested the men without incident at 3:19 a.m. off I-70 in Frederick County, Md., about 50 miles northwest of the nation's capital, said Larry Scott, an agent for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. State police said the men offered no resistance.
The relationship between Malvo and Muhammad, who also goes by the name John Allen Williams, was not clear, but several newspapers reported that the teen is Muhammad's stepson.
The Seattle Times said Muhammad changed his name after converting to Islam.
Several federal sources told the 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 jetliners over Washington, New York and Pennsylvania, the sources told the newspaper.
Neither man was believed to be associated with the al-Qaida terrorist network, the sources said.
The Times reported that Muhammad was stationed at Fort Lewis outside Tacoma in the 1980s, served in the Gulf War and was later stationed at Fort Ord, Calif. Malvo, who authorities said is a citizen of Jamaica, attended high school in Bellingham, Wash., last year.
The witnesses at the rest stop called police at 1 a.m. after they spotted the men sleeping inside one of the cars sought in the investigation -- a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice with a New Jersey license plate. Micah Rasmussen, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, said the car was registered to Muhammad at a Camden, N.J., address.
Investigators spent several hours examining the Caprice before putting it in a white trailer and towing it away. With news of the arrests filling the airwaves, truckers blew their horns as they passed by the rest stop.
On Wednesday, FBI agents spent hours at the Tacoma home, eventually carting away a tree stump from the yard and other potential evidence in a U-Haul truck.
Scott, the ATF spokesman, said the stump would be brought to the agency's lab in Rockville, Md. On background, law enforcement sources said they believed it might contain bullets or fragments.
A Fort Lewis spokesman did not return a call for comment on whether Muhammad was stationed on the base.
FBI agents visited Bellingham High School, 90 miles north of Seattle, on Wednesday, reportedly seeking information about Muhammad and Malvo. Mayor Mark Asmundson said both left the area about nine months ago.
Bellingham Police Chief Randy Carroll said his force had known about Malvo since December 2001, when a police officer at the high school filed a suspicious persons report because the youth arrived at the school without transcripts or other papers. At one point, he lived with Muhammad as father and son at the Lighthouse Mission, a homeless shelter, Carroll said.
Carroll said investigators believed the two arrested men were acting on their own, not as part of a group.
Pfc. Chris Waters, a Fort Lewis soldier who lives across the street from the Tacoma home, said he called police after hearing gunshots in the neighborhood nearly every day in January.
"It sounded like a high-powered rifle such as an M-16," he said. "Never more than three shots at a time. Pow. Pow. Pow."
One of Muhammad's ex-wives, Mildred, was questioned by the FBI on Wednesday, said Adele Moses, who identified herself as the woman's sister. She said Mildred was living with her in Clinton, Md., southeast of Washington.
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