WASHINGTON (AP) Attorney General John Ashcroft expanded the terrorism investigation yesterday to include U.S. attorneys in every city as authorities filed the first criminal charges after finding three men in a house with false immigrations papers and airport diagrams.
The arrests in Michigan occurred when FBI agents raided a residence in Detroit looking for one of the nearly 200 witnesses being sought in the investigation. Instead, they found the three men and a cache of documents. The three were charged with having false immigration papers.
Aided by a federal grand jury in New York, the investigation has detained 75 people for questioning and had at least four people under arrest as material witnesses, law enforcement officials said.
The government also announced a new policy that gives immigration authorities 48 hours, or longer in emergencies, to decide whether to charge an alien with status violations, up from 24 hours. Many of those questioned in the Sept. 11 attacks were being detained on immigration violations.
The attorney general vowed to use “every legal means at our disposal to prevent further terrorist activity by taking people into custody who have violated the law and who may pose a threat to America.”
Ashcroft said publicly for the first time that authorities are probing whether more flights beyond the four that crashed last Tuesday were targeted for hijackings, but noted the possibility had not yet been corroborated.
The restructuring of the investigation include the creation of anti-terrorism task forces by every U.S. attorney office in the country.
“These task forces will be a part of a national network that will coordinate the dissemination of information and the development of a strategy to disrupt, dismantle and punish terrorist organizations throughout the country,” he said.
The effort was being aided by a grand jury in White Plains, N.Y., and officials said other grand juries would likely be used around the country to issue subpoenas and gather evidence.
The three Detroit men were arrested on charges of identity fraud and misuse of visas.
During a search of the men”s residence, FBI agents observed a day planner containing notations on the “American base in Turkey,” the “American foreign minister” and “Alia Airport,” Jordan, according to an FBI affidavit filed in the case.
“The day planner also contained handwritten sketches of what appeared to be a diagram of an airport flight line, to include aircraft and runways,” the affidavit said.
Court records said the FBI seized documents suggesting the men worked in food preparation for airlines at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and collected information about an American military base in Turkey, a U.S. foreign minister, an airport in Jordan and diagrams of aircraft location and runways. The affidavit did not explain the reference to “U.S. foreign minister.”
Federal documents identified the men as Karim Koubriti, 23 Ahmed Hannan, 33 and Farouk Ali-Haimoud, 21.
Among the four material witnesses under arrest was Albader Alhazmi, 34, a Saudi national and Saudi-trained doctor doing a medical residency in radiology at University of Texas Health Science Center, a law enforcement official said. He was being held in New York.
Alhazmi did not show up for his radiologist job on Sept. 11. He had been working at a military hospital located on Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio during the week before the attacks, said an official at the medical center.
Meanwhile, evidence emerged yesterday that the FBI had tracked the activities of one Arab man who was seeking jetliner training from Minnesota to Oklahoma in the weeks before Tuesday”s attacks.
The FBI came by the Airman Flight School in Norman, Okla., about two weeks before the terrorist attacks, inquiring about Zacarias Moussaoui, who is now in custody in New York in the investigation.
An unconfirmed link to Iraq emerged yesterday in the intelligence community.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States has received information from a foreign intelligence service that Mohamed Atta, a hijacker aboard one of the planes that slammed into the World Trade Center, met earlier this year in Europe with an Iraqi intelligence agent.
The raw intelligence came in since the attacks last Tuesday and has not yet been corroborated by U.S. authorities, the official said.
Authorities also detained a man in San Diego, Calif., who was linked through financial transactions to two of the 19 hijackers, officials said.