U.S. winning war on terror, Bush says

Money transfers tracked to Giant Food store in Prince George's County

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

October 02, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush declared yesterday that U.S. efforts to defeat terrorism are paying dividends, pointing to millions of dollars in frozen assets and hundreds of arrests around the world as proof.

The president has urged patience in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, but said there are signs of progress in the criminal case and on diplomatic and financial fronts.

"The evil-doers like to hit and then they try to hide," Bush told employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helped coordinate rescue efforts after the attacks. "And slowly but surely, we're going to make sure they have no place to hide."

Investigators following the hijackers' money trail say they have traced wire transfers from the hijackers to a Saudi wanted for questioning by the FBI, and that some of that money may have passed through Maryland.

The hijackers are believed to have returned thousands of dollars unused in the plot to Mustafah Ahmed in the days before the attacks. In Maryland, where investigators have tracked several of the hijackers' final weeks, a source familiar with the probe said that at least one of the suspected hijackers wired money from a Giant Food store in Prince George's County.

Bush announced last week plans to cut off terrorist assets, which could help finance other attacks. He announced yesterday that about $6 million had been blocked and 50 bank accounts frozen, including 30 in the United States and 20 overseas.

The president said about 150 "terrorists and their supporters" have been arrested or detained in 25 countries. In the United States, the Justice Department said more than 500 people had been detained, including 145 on suspected immigrations violations.

Among those detained overseas, Bush said, was Zayd Hassan Safarini. He was arrested by FBI agents upon his release Friday from a Pakistani prison, where he had spent 14 years after being convicted on charges related to the hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in 1986.

Safarini was indicted a decade ago in the United States in the hijacking, which left 22 people dead, including two Americans. He could face the death penalty if convicted here.

His arrest is not directly related to the global investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks. But U.S. officials said it underscored their commitment to wiping out all terrorist networks and not focusing solely on Osama bin Laden or his terrorist network known as al-Qaida.

"Sometimes we'll be able to round somebody up who threatens us today. Sometimes it may take us a while to catch him," Bush said. "But the lesson of this case, and every case, is that this mighty nation won't rest until we protect ourselves, our citizens, and freedom-loving people around the world."

The United States has blamed the Sept. 11 attacks on bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan. While the criminal investigation moves ahead, Bush said yesterday that he has deployed 29,000 U.S. troops and several hundred military aircraft in response.

One day after Attorney General John Ashcroft warned that the United States is at risk of new terrorist violence, the White House reported that the Justice Department in the past three weeks had reviewed 241 threats considered "serious" or "credible."

Investigators have issued more than 4,400 subpoenas in the sweeping probe and conducted 383 searches. In Maryland, the money trail led investigators to Giant stores in Laurel and Greenbelt, where one or more of the suspected hijackers had charged groceries on a credit card, a source said.

Little information about most of the U.S. arrests in the case has been made public, but authorities in Virginia said yesterday that two people suspected of helping some of the hijackers obtain false identification cards were charged with document fraud.

Safarini was scheduled to appear late yesterday in federal court in Anchorage, Alaska. From there, he was expected to be returned to face a 126-count indictment, including murder charges, handed up by a grand jury in Washington, D.C., in 1991.

The U.S. arrest of Safarini signaled increased cooperation between Pakistan and the United States. Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, indicated Sunday that he would allow U.S. troops to use Pakistani bases for operations in Afghanistan, and said yesterday that he believes the Taliban's days are numbered.

"It appears that the United States will take action in Afghanistan, and we have conveyed this to the Taliban," Musharraf told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Commenting on Safarini's arrest in Pakistan, FBI Director Robert S. Muller III said the case demonstrates that "countering terrorism requires a global reach and strong international cooperation, and information sharing among law enforcement and prosecutors worldwide."

In the Virginia case, federal prosecutors filed fraud charges against Kenys Galicia and Luis Martinez-Flores, who are accused of - perhaps unwittingly - aiding in the hijackers' plan by helping them obtain state driver's licenses or identification cards.

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