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  Ashcroft Discusses New Powers

By Karen Gullo
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, Oct. 25, 2001; 7:54 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– Attorney General John Ashcroft pledged Thursday to use new powers granted by Congress to pursue terrorist suspects relentlessly, intercept their phone calls, read their unopened e-mail and phone messages and throw them in jail for the smallest of crimes.

Echoing a threat then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy made four decades ago to pursue mobsters for spitting on the sidewalk, Ashcroft said: "Let the terrorists among us be warned."

"If you overstay your visas even by one day, we will arrest you; if you violate a local law, we will hope that you will, and work to make sure that you are put in jail and be kept in custody as long as possible," he said in a speech to the nation's mayors.

Justice officials said they intend to use the new surveillance and wiretap powers granted by Congress on Thursday to build cases against many suspected terrorists already in custody on immigration issues or technicalities. President Bush has promised to sign the bill quickly into law.

Authorities have arrested or detained 952 people in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, including 168 detained on immigration charges. Many have been arrested for relatively low-level crimes – bank fraud, false identification or overstaying on visas. Most remain in custody, officials said.

A small number of these people, who are not cooperating, are believed to have terrorist connections or links to the 19 hijackers who crashed airliners into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. One, detained in Minnesota, had sought suspicious flight instruction. Two others, detained in Texas, were found with a large amount of cash and box-cutters similar to those used by the hijackers.

Mohammed Jaweed Azmath and Ayub Ali Khan are jailed in New York as material witnesses. The two, detained on an Amtrak train in Fort Worth, Texas, seemed nervous when approached and told conflicting stories about their travel plans, police said.

When officers said the travel plans sounded suspicious, according to a police report, Azmath said: "I did not have anything to do with New York."

Officials plan to run anthrax tests on items from the men's Jersey City, N.J., apartment, which contained magazine articles about bioterrorism.

The legislation allows intelligence officials to share information with prosecutors for the first time. The immediate affect will be that a bundle of intelligence files from the CIA and other agencies on terrorism suspects will be shipped to a Justice Department terrorism task force headed by Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff.

Files on prior attacks and radical groups gathered before the Sept. 11 attacks are of particular interest for what they may reveal about possible new attacks, Justice Department officials said.

While new intelligence information will be available, investigators are still waiting for tests that will show whether the anthrax sent to Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., was treated with chemical additives.

That would indicate the anthrax probably was produced in a sophisticated state-sponsored lab. Officials have cited early indications that the anthrax attacks might be the work of a domestic terrorist.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said the anthrax sent to Daschle was altered to make it more easily inhaled.

The FBI said anthrax that contaminated postal facilities in New Jersey appeared to be home grown.

"Tests are showing that it could be locally produced given the right circumstances," said Special Agent Sandra Carroll, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Newark office.

Carroll said the route of a New Jersey letter carrier who was infected with anthrax has shown no sign of the bacteria. The route was under suspicion because of the carrier's infection.

Forty-six post offices feed into the Trenton, N.J., facility where three anthrax-laced letters were postmarked. Video surveillance tapes of those post offices are under review, Carroll said.

In another development, an illegal alien from El Salvador charged with helping one of the 18 hijackers fraudulently obtain a Virginia identification card was ordered held without bail pending a preliminary hearing set for Monday.

Victor Lopez-Flores, accused of helping hijacker Ahmed Alghamdi, is the fourth person charged with abetting the hijackers in obtaining false Virginia identification.

Mail delivery at the Justice Department was suspended, and environmental tests were being performed at in-house mail-handling facilities and a mail center in Maryland that processes the department's mail.

There is no evidence of anthrax, but the tests are precautionary, officials said. Justice Department mail is first processed through a mail facility in Washington where anthrax has been found.


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© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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