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When he nominated Robert Mueller III, President Bush said one of the new FBI director’s primary challenges would be combating terrorism. Bush couldn’t have imagined how right he was. After a little more than a week on the job, Mueller, the former San Francisco U.S. Attorney, is heading the largest investigation the FBI has ever conducted after terrorists hijacked four planes Tuesday, toppling the World Trade Center towers with two and destroying part of the Pentagon with another. In his first comments since the attacks — likely to be one of the few public statements Mueller makes as the investigation moves forward — he said last Wednesday that 7,400 FBI personnel are working on the case. That number, roughly one-quarter of the FBI’s total force, makes it the largest criminal investigation in U.S. history. Mueller isn’t without experience investigating terrorist attacks. A decade ago Mueller, as head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, led the investigation into the bombing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. It was earlier this year, when Mueller served as acting deputy attorney general in what many saw as a precursor to the FBI position, that the verdict in the Lockerbie case was finally handed down. One suspected Libyan terrorist was convicted, another acquitted. Mueller vowed in January that the investigation was not over. Now, he has a crime far more vast in complexity and consequence. And those who know him said the investigation bears at least one of Mueller’s trademarks. “Thorough and organized,” said Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach partner Sanford Svetcov in San Francisco. “Given the magnitude of it, it almost has to be. But whether it’s because of him, it’s too soon to say.” Meanwhile, as agents focus on the terrorist investigation, an FBI spokeswoman said the resources being brought to bear on the attack will not likely delay unrelated cases. The consequences of the attack are already changing the way the country lives. The Federal Aviation Administration last week announced more restrictive air travel rules, including the posting of armed marshals on U.S. flights.

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