Boy pilot left note backing al-Qa'ida attacks

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The 15-year-old boy pilot who crashed a Cessna into a skyscraper in Tampa, Florida, had expressed support for Osama bin Laden and for the terrorist attacks of 11 September, America learnt in astonishment last night.

According to Tampa police, the first-year high school student, Charles Bishop, left behind a short note making clear his sympathies. But the city's chief of police, Bennie Holder, said that Bishop had acted alone and seemed to have no links with Mr bin Laden's al-Qa'ida organisation or with any other terrorist group.

"We are treating this as a suicide," Mr Holder said.

The crash happened late on Saturday afternoon. After arriving at his flying school at St Petersburg-Clearwater international airport for a scheduled lesson, Bishop commandeered the plane while checking on-board instruments on his own. He took off without clearance, heading across Tampa's bay towards the city downtown. On the way, he flew through the restricted airspace of MacDill Air Force Base, the home of US Central Command.

After frantic consultations, two F-15 jets were scrambled from another Florida air base while a Coast Guard helicopter signalled in vain to Bishop to land. But the young pilot ignored every radio and visual instruction, and crashed the Cessna 172 into the 28th floor of the 40-storey Bank of America building in Tampa.

Agents from the FBI, local police and the federal air safety board were questioning relatives of the boy last night. They also plan to search his personal computer for further clues about his motives.

Bishop's mother, with whom he lived, said she had no idea of her son's feelings. An able student and avid pilot, Bishop was described as a loner, with few friends. Others accounts said he was "despondent" in recent days.

Although Bishop was a student pilot, and had not reached the minimum age of 16 required to fly solo, he had been taking lessons since March 2001 and was not considered a complete novice.