Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON The terrorist plot against the World Trade Center and Pentagon had its roots in Afghanistan, but the conspirators were active in Europe and traveled throughout the world as they planned the suicide hijackings, Attorney General John Ashcroft said yesterday.
Ashcroft again blamed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Osama bin Laden, but he stopped short of saying that the exiled Saudi militant or his al-Qaida network financed them from its headquarters in Afghanistan, as some intelligence officials have suggested.
The attorney general said that U.S. investigators were trying to establish financial connections and that cooperative efforts with counter-terrorism authorities from other nations were beginning to pay off.
German authorities, for instance, announced yesterday that they had frozen 214 bank accounts on the suspicion that the funds were linked to terrorist activity. The European Union called on other member countries to freeze assets connected to terrorism suspects.
Ashcroft made his remarks at a news conference with Canada”s top law-enforcement official, Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay.
They discussed pending legislation in both countries to tighten security along the more-than-4,000-mile-long border between the United States and Canada, and other measures to crack down on terrorist activity.
In recent weeks, Ashcroft said, authorities have traced the threads of the conspiracy to all ends of the globe and have concluded that al-Qaida operates in virtually every country. The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, which killed about 6,000 people, underscored the expanse of bin Laden”s network, he said.
“We believe the roots of this act of terrorism, this act of war, were in Afghanistan,” Ashcroft said. “And we believe that the branches of the activity not only found their way to the United States of America, but were present in substantial ways in Europe, and that the activities of the conspirators carried them to destinations virtually around the globe.”
Since Sept. 11, Ashcroft said, investigators have conducted 540 interviews and 383 searches, issued 4,407 subpoenas and arrested or detained more than 500 individuals. He said authorities in 25 other nations have arrested or detained about 150 additional people suspected of being linked to terrorism.
Since the attacks, the U.S. government also has developed evidence of 241 “serious” or “credible” threats, according to the Justice Department and White House.
In Germany, authorities said their investigation had so far uncovered no firm evidence connecting bin Laden to the suspected hijackers, some of whom resided in Hamburg for a time.
Authorities in Berlin announced that they had frozen $3.8 million in assets held in bank accounts across the country on suspicion that the resources or owners had links to terrorism.
Spokesman Frank Bonaldo of the German Economics Ministry said at least two of the accounts were closed in recent days in response to President Bush”s executive order requesting that the assets of 27 individuals, movements and companies alleged to be associated with terrorism be frozen. One of the accounts belonged to Syrian-born Hamburg businessman Mamoun Darkazanli the other to an undisclosed person under investigation.
Darkanzanli was among the 27 alleged financiers of international terrorism identified by the White House. However, he told the Los Angeles Times in an interview after the list was released that he had no links to bin Laden.
Darkazanli”s name was on a joint account opened with known bin Laden accomplice Mamdouh Mamoud Salim in 1996. But Darkazanli, a naturalized German, said that account was opened solely as a favor to mutual friends of his and Salim”s. He also said he had no links to any of the Hamburg-based suspects among the suicide hijackers.