[Editor's Note: This report was filed at 7:57pm ET 7/31/2002. Since then, the suspect slipped through government "fingers, and has fled to Egypt.]
PATERSON, New Jersey (CNN) -- Law enforcement officials said Wednesday they were searching for an Egyptian suspected of selling phony documents, including the fake IDs used by two September 11 hijackers.
Authorities said Mohamed El Atriss, 45, who is considered a fugitive, faces 28 charges involving the manufacture and distribution of fraudulent documents.
Law enforcement agents raided El Atriss' home and businesses Wednesday in Paterson and Elizabeth, New Jersey.
They said his employees told them he had been out of the country and was thought to be en route to the United States. Police arrested three employees and seized dozens of fake IDs.
El Atriss allegedly sold fake IDs to hijacker Khalid Almihdar, who was on American Airlines Flight 77, which struck the Pentagon, and to hijacker Abdul Aziz Alomari, who was on American Flight 11, the first plane to strike New York's World Trade Center.
Authorities have not indicated that El Atriss, also known as Mohamed Abraham, was tied to any terrorist group or had advance knowledge of the September 11 plot. He was investigated last fall by the FBI.
New Jersey authorities said they began investigating El Atriss four months ago after fake documents turned up in the area. The FBI and authorities in Passaic, Bergen and Essex counties were involved.
Local officials said their investigation -- dubbed Operation Paper Trail -- was initially focused on the fake documents and their possible ties to drug trafficking.
Passaic County Detective Robert Weston said local police had networked with the FBI "during the infancy" of the investigation. He offered no further details.
El Atriss has lived in the Paterson area for at least a decade and had branches of his business, All Services. Inc., there and in nearby Elizabeth, about 20 minutes away, police said. Both towns are across the Hudson River less than an hour's drive from Manhattan.
At least four of the September 11 hijackers, besides Almihdar and Alomari, lived part of last year in Paterson. The city has a sizable Arabic population.
Local authorities said El Atriss, who may be a naturalized U.S. citizen through marriage, is believed to have made dozens of fake IDs, in particular state identification cards and international drivers' licenses.
New Jersey police said a company in St. Paul, Minnesota, tipped them after El Atriss tried to buy a copier that could emboss seals and holograms. The copier is sold only in New Jersey and Minnesota.
El Atriss decided to buy the machine in New Jersey, and undercover FBI agents posing as store merchants sold it to him. One agent also posed as a deliveryman and delivered the copier to El Atriss.
Police said El Atriss has been arrested once before for theft in New Jersey.
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