WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 700 people were arrested on
immigration violations and thousands more subjected to FBI
interviews in an intense government effort to avert a terrorist
attack aimed at disrupting the election.

As with past unrealized al-Qaida threats, law enforcement
officials said yesterday they don’t know for sure whether any
of those arrests or interviews foiled an attack.

“It’s very hard to prove a negative,” Michael
Garcia, chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an
interview yesterday. “We did cases and operations for people
we thought posed national security concerns. We didn’t arrest
anyone who had a bomb.”

For example, ICE agents arrested a 23-year-old Pakistani man in
late October who had illegally entered the United States through
Mexico in 2000 and was working as a fuel tanker truck driver with
access to a major U.S. seaport. The man, who was not further
identified, is charged with making false statements about how he
entered the country and remains under investigation for any links
to terrorism.

He was one of the 237 people arrested in October alone on
immigration violations, for a total of more than 700 since the
enforcement effort began last year, Garcia said. “It was a
broad approach that led us to have a very disruptive effect, we
believe,” he said.

Although the election season passed without an attack, officials
say al-Qaida remains a dangerous foe intent on striking the United
States again. The day after the election, Attorney General John
Ashcroft told his senior staff to not let their guard down.

The Jan. 20 presidential inauguration heads the list of upcoming
high-profile events that officials say could draw terrorist
interest. Others include the Feb. 6 Super Bowl in Jacksonville,
Fla., and the December holiday travel season, which last year saw
several threats against trans-Atlantic flights.

There still is concern the Osama bin Laden videotape aired last
week could be a signal for an attack. And despite asking for help
from the public, the FBI still has not identified a man calling
himself “Azzam the American,” whose lengthy videotape
aired last month promised attacks that will make U.S. streets
“run red with blood.”

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