FREDERICK, Md. (Oct. 24) - One of America's most extraordinary manhunts culminated Thursday in the arrests of an Army veteran and a teenager, asleep at a roadside rest stop - perpetrators, authorities believe, of a bloody, three-week sniping spree that left 10 people dead and multitudes paralyzed by fear.
Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler said state and federal prosecutors would meet Friday morning to discuss charges against John Allen Muhammad, 41, and 17-year-old John Lee Malvo. But law-enforcement sources told The Associated Press investigators were certain they had the culprits.
One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a gun found in the suspects' car appeared to use .223-caliber bullets - the fatal calling card in the attacks that began Oct. 2 with the killing of James D. Martin in a grocery store parking lot in Wheaton, Md.
Police also found a scope and tripod in the car, the official said.
Two senior federal law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators hadn't ruled out other accomplices, including some who may have provided vehicles or other support.
The suspects, it seems, might have been tripped up by their own arrogance; authorities said they received a call on the task force tip line taking responsibility for the sniper attacks and for something in ''Montgomery.''
Evidence from a Sept. 21 liquor store heist in Montgomery, Ala., which killed one employee and wounded another, then led police to Malvo and Muhammad.
But who were these two, and why might they have unleashed terror on Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia?
Muhammad, a veteran of the Gulf War, converted to Islam, according to The Seattle Times. Malvo is a citizen of Jamaica. The Times quoted federal sources as saying the two had been known to speak sympathetically about the hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
But there was no indication, authorities said, that they were linked to al-Qaida or any terrorist group.
The two were arrested without incident by members of the sniper task force at a rest stop in Frederick County, 50 miles northwest of Washington. The time was 3:19 a.m.
Three hours earlier, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose had announced that Muhammad and Malvo were being sought and issued a nationwide alert for a blue, 1990 Chevrolet Caprice with New Jersey plates. A motorist and an attendant spotted the car and called police.
The Caprice has an opening in its trunk that would permit someone to lie inside and fire the rifle while remaining hidden, said two federal law enforcement sources. They saidy that could explain the lack of spent shell casings in most of the shootings.
Investigators now believe that the Chevrolet Caprice was involved in all the shootings. Sightings of white vans and box trucks were attributed to erroneous witness accounts.
All told, 13 people were shot in the snipings. Three survived, among them a 13-year-old boy, gunned down as he arrived at school. The sniper left notes claiming to be God, and warning that children were not safe ''anywhere, at any time.''
Thousands of children stayed home from school, and motorists avoided filling their tanks at gas stations where they might be vulnerable to a shot.
Some residents greeted Thursday's news as if it was the first glimmer of sunrise after the darkness that stretched three weeks.
''I feel a lot safer today,'' said Mary Beth Roberts of Stafford County, Va. ''Everyone's smiling and getting out more.''
She was shopping at the Michaels craft store in Fredericksburg, Va., where a 43-year-old woman was critically wounded on Oct. 4; a regular customer, Roberts felt safe to return only after news of the arrests.
Police, who had been under enormous pressure, turned their attention to gathering evidence that Muhammad and Malvo were responsible. The first item was Malvo's fingerprint, found at the scene of the Alabama robbery on a magazine about weapons, according to Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright.
Bright did not specify whether the print was found before or after the telephone call claiming responsibility for the sniper attacks and the liquor store holdup, but it was the crucial break.
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.
Police traced Malvo to a house in Tacoma, Wash., that was searched Wednesday. He had been living in the house with Muhammad, a source told the AP.
FBI agents carted away potential evidence, including a tree stump from the yard that investigators planned to examine for bullets or bullet fragments. Larry Scott, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said the stump would be brought to the agency's lab in Rockville, Md.
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.''
Muhammad did not receiver sniper training during his Army career, but he did receive a Marksmanship Badge with expert rating - the highest of three ratings - in use of the M-16 rifle, according to Army records.
A senior defense official who disclosed parts of Muhammad's Army record said Muhammad had training in three areas, mainly as a combat engineer, which was his specialty during the time he served in the 1991 Gulf War.
He also was trained as a metal worker and a water transport specialist.
Muhammad enlisted in the Army on Nov. 6, 1985, and was discharged at Fort Lewis on April 26, 1994. After leaving active duty he served in the Oregon National Guard until 1995. Before coming on active duty, he served in the Louisiana National Guard from 1978 to 1985.
His highest ranking on active duty was sergeant.
Muhammad changed his name last year from John Allen Williams, years after he converted to Islam, investigators told the Times.
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.
The relationship between the two was not clear. Some news reports identified Malvo as Muhammad's stepson, but two senior federal law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators now believe that he is not, at least not in the traditional sense.
Malvo attended high school in Bellingham last year. Police Chief Randy Carroll said his force had known about Malvo since December 2001, when the high school reported 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.