DETROIT (AP) A federal prosecutor said yesterday the government is trying to build a terrorism case against three men already facing trial on charges of having illegal immigration papers.

The government still hopes to seek a new or revised grand jury indictment charging Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan and Youssef Hmimssa with terrorism, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino said during a bond hearing for the three.

“We”re vigorously pursuing the evidence at this point in time,” Convertino told U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen.

Prosecutors, however, have not yet received responses to subpoenas or reports on the suspects sought from foreign governments, Convertino said. He did not state the government”s reasons for considering terrorism charges, did not say who had been subpoenaed and did not name the foreign governments.

Convertino said afterward that a gag order imposed by Rosen on Oct. 22 prevented him from discussing possible terrorism charges.

Koubriti, 23, Hannan, 33, and Hmimssa, 30, are resident aliens of Middle Eastern descent. They were charged with fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents following a Sept. 17 raid on a Detroit apartment that yielded a cache of false documents.

Without specifying the three by name, Attorney General John Ashcroft said in October that three Arab men in Michigan arrested on false document charges were “suspected of having knowledge” of the Sept. 11 attacks. He later backed off that statement.

Law enforcement officials in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the three are not believed to be connected to the Sept. 11 attacks but are being investigated for other possible terrorist ties.

Koubriti”s court-appointed lawyer, Leroy Soles, said he was concerned the case was drifting away from its original focus on document fraud.

“I”ve never had a case like this where there was one adjournment after another, (while the government was) trying to decide if they”re terrorists,” he said.

The men remained held without bond in the Wayne County Jail after Rosen rejected a defense request that they be released to a federal halfway house.

Rosen agreed with the prosecutor to reschedule their trial for late March or early April. It was originally set to begin Nov. 20, then was rescheduled for Jan. 22 and again for Feb. 19. He said the delay would give both sides time to compile more evidence, and for publicity surrounding the arrests made six days after the Sept. 11 terror attacks to subside further.

During the raid on Koubriti and Hannan”s apartment, federal agents said they found a planner that contained notations in Arabic that they believe were plans for attacks on the Alia airport in Jordan and a plot to kill former Defense Secretary William Cohen during a visit to Turkey.

Koubriti, Hannan and a third man who was not indicted were arrested while authorities were looking for Nabil al-Marabh, whose name was on the apartment mailbox.

Al-Marabh was later arrested in Chicago and is jailed in New York on immigration charges. He is a former Boston cab driver who was licensed in Michigan to haul hazardous materials.

Authorities have said he has ties to Raed Hijazi, an associate of the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden. Hijazi is jailed in Jordan on charges that he planned to blow up a hotel filled with Americans and Israelis on New Year”s Day 2000.

Koubriti and Hannan have denied knowing al-Marabh. But the FBI has said they acknowledged that al-Marabh may have lived previously in the apartment.

Hmimssa was arrested Sept. 28 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His photo with the alias Michael Saisa was found on documents in the raided apartment.

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