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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Charges Listed Against 90 Held in Terror Sweep

Dragnet: Officials release names after criticism over secrecy. Only one, suspected '20th hijacker' Zacarias Moussaoui, is tied to Sept. 11 attacks.

January 17, 2002|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — More than 90 people who were swept up in the terrorism investigation have been charged with crimes not related to the Sept. 11 attacks, law enforcement officials have disclosed in their most complete accounting to date of the terrorist probe in the United States.

After months of being criticized for secrecy, law enforcement officials released documents showing that the 92 people had been charged as of last week with a wide array of federal crimes, but only one--Zacarias Moussaoui, suspected of being the "20th hijacker"--has been linked in court to Sept. 11, when hijacked planes leveled the World Trade Center's twin towers, slammed into the Pentagon and crashed in rural Pennsylvania. The documents also suggest that 25 others are being held on material witness warrants or other undisclosed offenses related to terrorism.

Intense Probe Led to Many Arrests

The list, which offers details about who has been charged around the country and the types of cases that are being presented, also makes clear that most of the suspects never would have been apprehended had there not been such an intense investigation after the attacks.

Those arrested, most of them immigrants from the Middle East, were taken into custody by FBI agents as the bureau fanned out to gather information about other potential terrorists. The crimes ranged from bank fraud and making false identification cards and passports, to weapon charges and lying to authorities.

Some of the defendants already have pleaded guilty, have been sentenced and, in some cases, have been deported to their home countries. Four of the defendants are from California.

The FBI and the Department of Justice have been especially tight-lipped about the nature of their investigation and its repercussions.

But officials released the detailed list Friday in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of civil liberties groups that are seeking a full picture of the scope of the investigation.

'An Unprecedented Worldwide Effort'

"Four thousand FBI agents are engaged with their international counterparts in an unprecedented worldwide effort to prevent further attack by apprehending those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks and by detecting, disrupting and dismantling terrorist organizations," said James Reynolds, chief of the Justice Department's Terrorism and Violent Crime Section in a declaration filed with the court.

"This is an open and ongoing investigation; the FBI is continuing to follow leads and conduct interviews at this time," he added.

Reynolds said agents have questioned more than 1,000 people "about whom concern had arisen," and that while most of those questioned were released, other interviews "resulted in a decision to take individuals into custody."

He said 117 detainees were held on federal criminal charges, but the list he provided included only 92 names.

However, Reynolds noted that the others were "individuals who were believed to have information material to the events of Sept. 11 [and] were taken into custody under material witness warrants." Because of grand jury secrecy, their names were not provided.

A list of about 725 cases also was released, with the names blacked out. Those detainees are suspected of immigration violations, according to the documents.

The 92 charged with federal crimes "remain a potential source of relevant or probative information," Reynolds said.

Although he did not elaborate, he said that the release of too much information about the defendants--such as where they are being held--might "assist terrorist organizations in tracking the flow and progress of the investigation."

In addition to Moussaoui, four people have been charged since the list was released Friday. They include two men who are accused of credit card fraud; they once were considered prime terrorist suspects because they were carrying box cutters when they were arrested Sept. 12 aboard an Amtrak train.

The two others--John Walker Lindh and Richard C. Reid--were charged with having connections to the Al Qaeda terrorist network run by Osama bin Laden.

The cases have been brought in federal courts around the country.

In Bangor, Maine, for instance, Francois Guagni, a French citizen who earlier had been deported, is to be sentenced next week for trying to illegally reenter the United States.

His lawyer, Christopher D. Smith, said Guagni had lived in Connecticut for many years and was deported several years ago after committing various crimes, such as domestic abuse and drinking while driving. Smith said Guagni then attempted to return to the United States to visit his family and was on a flight from France to New York on, of all days, Sept. 11.

Picked Up Crossing Into Maine

"His plane was diverted to Nova Scotia and he was going to take a bus in from there to the Newark, N.J., and Connecticut area to see his children," Smith said.

Guagni was picked up trying to cross the border into Maine. "He did not have permission to return because he had been deported," the lawyer said.

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