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Dragnet Produces Few Terrorist Ties

Inquiry: Unveiled records show that 104 of the 1,000-plus picked up face federal criminal charges.


WASHINGTON — Federal criminal charges have been filed against 104 people detained in the United States in the global investigation into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but most of those charges are not directly related to terrorist activity, according to government documents released Tuesday.

The Justice Department documents show that an additional 538 people remained in federal custody on immigration charges and that none of them were charged with participating in or plotting acts of terrorism.

The records released by Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft amounted to the government's first public accounting of more than 1,180 people swept up in that global dragnet. Until Tuesday, the Justice Department had refused to disclose whom it had detained or charged in connection with the investigation, and for weeks, concern had been mounting in Congress and elsewhere about the secrecy and scope of his investigation.

But authorities cautioned that the documents paint an incomplete picture of the investigation into the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Of the 104 people criminally charged, the names of 93 were released, while criminal complaints against 11 others in federal custody have been sealed. In addition, an undetermined number of detainees are being held in virtual secrecy as material witnesses.

Ashcroft said authorities have in custody several members of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network, which the Bush administration believes is responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

He refused to say whether any of those detainees have been linked to the hijackings or any other terrorist attack or plot.

But, he added, "we believe we have Al Qaeda membership in custody, and we will use every constitutional tool to keep suspected terrorists locked up."

In explaining the large number of detainees, Ashcroft and other U.S. authorities have emphasized that the investigation is meant to thwart future terrorist attacks. As many as 400 of those detained in the investigation have been released.

Of the 93 individuals publicly charged with criminal violations, most are accused of having fraudulent licenses for transporting hazardous materials, violating the federal immigration code, or committing fraud or theft. Seven detainees were charged with firearm violations and one with explosives charges. One person charged with credit card fraud has not been arrested.

Virtually all of the 538 immigration detainees are accused of overstaying their visa, violating the terms of the visa, entering the United States without permission or other immigration violations. The detainees come from 47 countries, most of them from Pakistan, Turkey, the Middle East and north African nations.

One federal law enforcement official said authorities are still aggressively pursuing their investigation and tracking down leads. Still, he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity: "If we had evidence indicating anyone was involved in terrorism, we would be filing charges."

At an afternoon briefing called to announce the release of the documents, Ashcroft sought to defuse the controversy over the veil of secrecy that he has thrown over the investigation and those detained or charged.

In the weeks after the attacks, Ashcroft sought and obtained broad powers to investigate and detain suspected terrorists, prompting harsh criticism that he was abusing the civil liberties and constitutional rights of both the suspected and the accused, particularly Muslims.

Since obtaining those powers, Ashcroft has drawn even more criticism for not disclosing details of who has been detained--even to his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate. On several occasions, several senators demanded from Ashcroft a public accounting of who has been taken into custody, and on what basis, but they said Tuesday that they had never received it.

Ashcroft's release of the information appeared to do little to appease them and came just hours before his top deputy, Michael Chertoff, was scheduled to appear before a congressional oversight committee to respond to complaints from senators about what they described as the Justice Department's lack of disclosure.

"While I appreciate the Justice Department's finally providing a rough estimate of the number of people who are currently in detention, I continue to be deeply troubled by its refusal to provide a full accounting of everyone who has been detained and why," said one of the senators, Wisconsin Democrat Russell D. Feingold.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he welcomed Ashcroft's release of the information.

"For the purposes of our committee's oversight of the handling of these detentions, the answers we have received so far have not been responsive to our requests, but we look forward to working with the attorney general toward a full accounting," Leahy said.

Ibrahim Hooper, representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, described the disclosure as "a step in the right direction."

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