U.S. Government Widens Investigation Powers
Attorney General Ashcroft said Tuesday he had expanded the terrorism investigation to include U.S. attorneys in every city, vowing to wage a “concerted national assault” against suspected terrorist cells.
A federal grand jury has convened in White Plains, N.Y., to consider evidence against individuals who may be connected to the hijackers.
So far, 75 people have been detained for questioning and four people are under arrest as material witnesses.
Ashcroft also said federal investigators are looking into whether the hijackers were planning to seize additional planes, including two American Airlines flights out of Newark.
Federal banking regulators distributed a list of 21 possible suspects to all banks nationwide, asking them to research any accounts or financial transactions in the suspects’ names and report them immediately to the FBI.
In Detroit, FBI agents raided a residence looking for one of the 190 witnesses being sought in the investigation. They found three men who denied knowing the man on the FBI’s list, but did have false documents and airport diagrams. The men were charged with fraud and misuse of visas, passports and other immigration documents. Ashcroft refused to speculate whether this was a break in the case.
The Justice Department has given investigators wide latitude in detaining non-U.S. citizens. Authorities can now hold people on possible immigration violations for 48 hours instead of 24 hours. New rules will allow legal immigrants to be detained indefinitely during national emergencies while investigators decide whether to release them or charge them with a crime.
Civil liberties advocates and immigration lawyers expressed concern over the new detention powers.
The Bush administration has the authority to rewrite detention rules, but will present Congress with a broad package of anti-terrorism legislation within days. The American Civil Liberties Union and others are urging Congress not to act hastily.
Ashcroft insisted that “we’re doing everything we can to harmonize the constitutional rights of individuals with every legal capacity we can muster to also protect the safety and security of individuals.”
Ashcroft also said that the terrorists behind the attacks likely received support from foreign governments.
“It is pretty clear that the networks that conduct these kind of events are harbored, supported, sustained and protected by a variety of foreign governments,” he said. “It is time for those governments to understand with crystal clarity that the United States of America will not tolerate that kind of support for networks that would inflict this kind of damage on the American people.”
World leaders are responding in different ways. Pakistan’s leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, told his nation that the United States wants Pakistan’s help on intelligence gathering and logistics as well as permission to use its airspace.
Cuban officials said the country was approached by U.S. officials about exchanging information on possible terrorist activities.
In Rome, police said that two Afghans arrested on the Italian-French border have been cleared of any links to Osama bin Laden. German police were investigating users of a Web site offering advice on training for holy war that was used by a suspect in the U.S. attacks.
A U.S. delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with Russia’s former director of foreign intelligence in closed-door talks as part of U.S. effort to build a wide coalition against terrorism and tap Russian expertise on Afghanistan.