Ashcroft links foreign governments to terrorist acts

Says the networks were `sustained, protected'

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

September 20, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Attorney General John Ashcroft drew the strongest connection yet between foreign governments and terrorist activity in the United States yesterday, but he stopped short of directly implicating them in last week's attacks.

"It's pretty clear that the networks that conduct these kinds of events are harbored and supported, sustained, protected, by a variety of foreign governments," Ashcroft told reporters after visiting recovery workers at the Pentagon, where 189 people are missing or dead.

There have been reports that one of the suspected hijackers met with Iraqi intelligence agents in Europe in the months before the Sept. 11 attack.

President Bush, asked whether investigators believed Iraq is connected to the attack, sidestepped the question.

"Anybody who harbors terrorists needs to fear the United States and the rest of the free world," Bush told reporters at the White House. "Anybody who houses a terrorist, encourages terrorism will be held accountable."

The Justice Department said 115 people are being detained on suspected immigration violations and are wanted for questioning in the case. No information about the individuals has been released.

In Detroit, federal agents charged three men late Tuesday with having false identification and immigration documents. Justice Department officials said the arrests were not directly related to the attacks, but court records made public yesterday offered a glimpse into a closely-guarded investigation.

A sworn affidavit said members of the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force in Detroit had gone to the men's home in southwest Detroit looking for a fourth man, Nabil al-Marabh, one of about 200 people wanted for questioning in the attacks.

Al-Marabh was not at home when agents knocked on his door, according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent Robert Pertuso. He is still being sought.

Inside the house, Pertuso said agents found "handwritten sketches of what appeared to be a diagram of an airport flight line, to include aircraft and runways." The agents also recovered a day-planner with notations in Arabic related to an "American base in Turkey," an "American foreign minister" and "Alia Airport," in Jordan, the affidavit said.

Two of the three men had employee identification badges for an airline meal service at the Detroit-Wayne County Metropolitan Airport, the affidavit said. When questioned by agents, the men said they no longer worked at the Sky Chef service, but were employed by a cable business in Livonia, Mich.

The men arrested are: Karim Koubriti, 23; Farouk Ali-Haimoud, 21, and Ahmed Hannan, 33. They are being held without bond until a detention hearing Friday in federal court in Michigan.

Ashcroft said the arrests did not appear to be a major development in the broader investigation.

"I think it would be far too early to indicate that this is some sort of major breakthrough in the case," he said.

Federal agents continued to investigate whether more than four planes were targeted by hijackers last Tuesday along with the possibility that attacks were planned in the days and weeks after.

Sept. 22 has been repeatedly raised as a date for which more violence was planned, but the Justice Department rejected that late yesterday.

"There's a lot of information out there about the twenty-second, and we have taken a serious look at that information," said Justice spokeswoman Mindy Tucker. "And at this time, we do not know of any credible threat pertaining to the twenty-second."

FBI agents also are investigating the possibility that some of the 19 suspected hijackers identified last week were using stolen or false identification. Foreign news reports have described people with the same names and backgrounds as the hijackers, claiming that they are alive and were not involved in the attacks.

Several people have been arrested on material witness warrants in New York, where a grand jury in White Plains, N.Y., is reviewing evidence and issuing subpoenas for witnesses and documents.

Justice officials have refused to release or confirm information on material witnesses, saying it is against grand jury secrecy rules. The Associated Press reported yesterday that one of the witnesses under arrest was Albader Alhazmi, 34, a Saudi-trained medical doctor who didn't report to his job at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio on Sept. 11.

Tucker refused to comment on the reports about Alhazmi. At the Pentagon, Ashcroft said only that "it's fair to say we are making progress on a variety of fronts."

After inspecting the damage to the Pentagon, the attorney general said that he left with a renewed commitment that "the network of individuals responsible for this would be brought to justice and would pay the price."

Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller plan to travel today to western Pennsylvania to visit the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

Meantime, the Securities and Exchange Commission, responding to reports that terrorists might have attempted to profit from the disaster through stock trades in advance of the attack, released a statement saying it was "vigorously pursuing all credible leads."

But acting enforcement director Stephen M. Cutler said the agency had drawn no conclusions and added that any reports about the agency's investigation were speculation and had "absolutely no foundation in fact."

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