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Attorney General: More Terror Acts Possible

Sunday, 30 September 2001 12:00 AM

He also said some of those being held eventually might be charged directly in the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 100 people are currently in custody on immigration charges, and more than 300 others are being held on a variety of relatively minor violations, including identity fraud.

Appearing on the CBS program "Face the Nation," Ashcroft said those involved in the plot probably included more than the 19 suspected hijackers who died when two airliners were crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and another into the ground in rural Pennsylvania.

"We don't have any reason to believe that the entirety of those involved perished in the event" of Sept. 11, Ashcroft said. "We believe there is the likelihood of additional terrorist activity. That's why the legislative package" being pushed by the Justice Department in Congress "is so important."

Ashcroft later told CNN's "Late Edition" that the federal government is still not as prepared for attacks as he would like it to be and that legislation proposed - but not implemented -- following the Oklahoma City bombing could have made a difference.

"We weren't as prepared as we would have liked to have been. I know that Sen. [Orrin] Hatch, [R-Utah], following the Oklahoma City bombing in the response to that legislatively, tried to put some of the things in that bill that we are offering to the Congress, asking the Congress to give us as tools now.

"Had we had those it might have made a difference but we can't guarantee that... We've got to move some of these capacities and they are very important," Ashcroft said.

Ashcroft dismissed suggestions that U.S. citizens should carry federal identification cards, saying it was not part of the administration's package in its fight against terrorism.

Ashcroft wants the authority to ask federal courts for the use of "roving wiretaps" in investigations involving national security. Court-ordered wiretaps now are authorized only for a particular telephone number in a particular jurisdiction, but the proposed change would enable the courts to order wiretaps for individuals, not numbers, no matter how much they move around, and the order would apply to any jurisdiction.

The department also is asking for laws against terrorists to be raised to the level of those aimed at drug dealers, with stronger penalties and greater authority to track the money used to pay for acts of terrorism. Ashcroft also wants the authority to use information from foreign intelligence services in U.S. national security investigations, and an end to the statute of limitations on crimes of terror.

He stressed to CBS that further terrorist acts on U.S. soil are possible.

"We have not been able to rule out plans" for additional hijackings, both on Sept. 11 and now, Ashcroft said, but added, "We don't have an conclusive proof."

Ashcroft also defended holding some of those detained on immigration violations for nearly three weeks without bringing criminal charges. Federal law allows illegal aliens to be held 24 hours before being brought before a judge, but makes exceptions for national security matters, when aliens may be held for a "reasonable" time.

The attorney general hinted that some of those being held will be charged when a federal grand jury in White Plains, N.Y., finally returns indictments, and said it was important that the detainees remain in custody.

"I don't want to be releasing violent terrorists onto the streets of America," Ashcroft said.

He declined to say how many of those being held would be charged in the terror attacks, but added, "We've got quite a number of them."

Ashcroft said the risk of domestic terrorism might be even higher once the U.S. military begins taking action overseas against suspected terrorism bases. The United States has pointed the finger at exiled Saudi militant Osama bin Laden, now in hiding in Afghanistan, as the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks.

He said the new legislation is needed now to combat additional terrorist threats. "I call upon Congress to act quickly," Ashcroft said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the committee, said on the same television program that they would try to grant Ashcroft's request for swift action.

"I think the attorney general stated the facts correctly," Leahy said. But he noted that Republicans and Democrats in the House have had concerns over the effect that the proposed legislation could have on civil liberties, and that those concerns would have to be overcome.

Hatch said it was important for U.S. investigators to have the same tools to fight terrorists as they have to fight drug lords. "I don't think we can wait any longer" to pass the legislation, he said.

The Democratic chairman of the powerful Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, said on "Face the Nation" that he did not think the Justice Department was asking Congress to act too quickly, nor did he think there was a threat to civil liberties in the legislative package.

"There is a clear and present danger," Lieberman said.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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He also said some of those being held eventually might be charged directly in the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 100 people are currently in custody on immigration charges, and more than 300 others are being held on a variety of relatively minor violations, including identity...
Sunday, 30 September 2001 12:00 AM
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