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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Authorities searching for the Washington-area sniper took two people into custody Monday, after surrounding a white van parked at a pay phone. They also confirmed that Saturday night's shooting at a steakhouse outside Richmond was the work of the sniper.

Hanover County Sheriff Stuart Cook said the two were being held for questioning in the attacks that have left nine people dead and three critically wounded since Oct. 2. He refused to describe them as suspects.

The developments came one day after police issued a public plea for the sniper to contact them at a phone number that was part of a message found near the latest shooting scene.

At least one of the people in custody was dragged out of the van parked near an Exxon station in the Richmond suburbs. Witnesses said the van was a Plymouth Voyager with temporary Virginia tags.

Keith Underwood, service manager at an Oldsmobile dealership next door, said officer converged on the van and pulled the driver out around 8:30 a.m. He said officers were screaming at the person behind the wheel and yanked several times on the door before getting it open.

``They basically surrounded him with their shotguns,'' said another witness, Pathenia Fields, a title clerk at the car dealer. She said she saw just one man in the van.