Archive for Saturday, September 22, 2001

European, U.S. officials make arrests as Ashcroft urges vigilance against new attacks

September 22, 2001


— Authorities in Europe and the United States made a slew of arrests in the terrorist investigation, and officials went on alert against new attacks despite the lack of specific threats.

Newly released documents showed that U.S. authorities have detained dozens of people from Middle Eastern countries who violated immigration rules and are being questioned by terrorism investigators. The documents showed some entered the country in the days around the suicide hijackings.

Justice Department:

In an indication of increased U.S. security, the Coast Guard has begun checking all lists of crew members and passengers on vessels entering the United States, and comparing names with those on law enforcement databases, said Cmdr. Jim McPherson.

He cited the example last week of the captain of a cruise ship returning to Miami from Cozumel, Mexico, who reported that two passengers were acting suspiciously. The Coast Guard was contacted, detained the men and found that one was wanted in connection with terrorist acts unrelated to the Sept. 11 hijackings. The man was turned over to the FBI.

Nearly two weeks after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Attorney General John Ashcroft urged vigilance while cautioning against panic.

The attacks showed "we have a vulnerability to which we should be attentive but to which we should not yield," Ashcroft said Friday after a tour of the World Trade Center wreckage site in New York.

The global investigation to find people involved in the plot to hijack four jetliners moved ahead with several arrests.

German officials issued arrest warrants for two men charged with forming a terrorist organization and at least 5,000 counts of murder. In the warrants prosecutors named Ramzi Binalshibh, 29, of Yemen, and Said Bahaji, 26, a German of Moroccan origin.

Both are suspected of helping plot the attacks on New York and Washington with three hijackers who lived for a time in Hamburg, Germany, and died executing the plot, prosecutor Kay Nehm said.

In London, four people were arrested and questioned by anti-terrorism police. Authorities in France arrested seven in connection with an alleged plot to target U.S. sites there.

Canadian authorities are holding a man who was trying to fly into Chicago with an illegal passport and airline uniforms on the day of the hijacking attacks, the Justice Department said.

Court documents unsealed Friday said the man, Nageeb Abdul Jabar Mohamed Al-Hadi, was on a Lufthansa flight from Germany to O'Hare International Airport when it was diverted to Toronto because of the hijackings.

Al-Hadi, a contract employee for the German airline, was traveling with a ticket under a different name and carried three passports from Yemen, two of which had names significantly different from his, the criminal complaint said. He was charged Sept. 14 with possessing and attempting to use a false passport. U.S. authorities plan to file extradition papers.

Investigators want to question Al-Hadi, although officials said they have no information that he is linked to the attacks.

In Washington, the Justice Department released documents charging 33 of the 80 people taken into custody by immigration authorities. Most were charged with overstaying visitor or business visas.

The names of those detained were covered up in the documents. Their native countries included Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, Jordan, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and Syria.

A handful of the detainees came to the United States in the days around the attacks. One from Syria entered illegally through Canada three days before. An Indian entered Chicago as a ship crewman the day before the attacks. Three Egyptians entered the United States through Texas three days after the hijackings.

Meanwhile, authorities and a lawyer confirmed a Saudi man was arrested the day of the attacks in suburban Washington, a few miles from Dulles International Airport, where one of the planes was hijacked. That plane later crashed into the Pentagon.

Attorney Drewry Hutcheson Jr. said his client, Khalid al-Draibi, was stopped while driving with a flat tire near Manassas, Va.

"He was arrested for allegedly making a false statement that he was a U.S. citizen. He later told the FBI investigators who spoke to him that he was a Saudi Arabian citizen," Hutcheson said. He said his client remained in detention.

Police near Birmingham, Ala., said the FBI questioned them in recent days about a cab driver with a similarly spelled name, Khalid Aldiribi, who they believed was being detained in Washington.

The FBI in Virginia also issued a list of 21 names to banks, seeking records of financial transactions in the investigation.

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