At least nine of the hijackers were here legally; no record found on several others

Thursday, October 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The U.S. government said Thursday that at least nine of the 19 hijackers were in the United States legally at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service said that four others entered the country legally, including three who had overstayed their visas. The INS said it couldn't determine the status of the fourth on Sept. 11.

Regarding six of the hijackers, the INS said it was ``unable'' to find any record relating to their names. The INS said it compiled the information based on material from the FBI.

Appearing at a House subcommittee hearing chaired by Rep. George Gekas, INS commissioner James Ziglar said that 10 of the hijackers were in the country legally on Sept. 11. Documents from the INS, however, showed only nine with legal status on the day of the attacks.

The records suggest that several of the key hijacker leaders, who had been in the U.S. during the year 2000, entered the country for the final time during May and June. They included Mohamed Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi and Khalid Almihdhar.

Meanwhile, Attorney General John Ashcroft says hefty rewards for 22 suspects in various terrorist attacks should help track some down.

Washington is offering up to $5 million each for information leading to the capture of suspected terrorists wanted for crimes dating to 1985, and including the Sept. 11 attacks.

``Our chances are improved if people around the world understand the nature and seriousness of terrorism and they also understand that there's a substantial financial reward for turning them in,'' he said during a round of morning talk shows Thursday.

``We don't give up on individuals who have killed Americans, who have been responsible for bombing our embassies. We don't give up on individuals who have bombed the barracks or residential facilities of the American military and we will pursue them.''

He noted that one of the bombers of the World Trade Center in 1993 was brought to the attention of U.S. authorities _ and since convicted _ because of an international reward.

``These things can work,'' he said.

The wanted list released Wednesday includes Osama bin Laden and several other people linked to the 19 hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, and commandeered the airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Ashcroft said Americans should act as if more terrorism could strike at any time. As with his earlier calls for people to stay vigilant, he did not mention any specific terrorist threats.

``I'm going to go ahead with my life and I think Americans will with theirs, but they need to be prepared, not panicked,'' he said.

Officials are warning that coded messages possibly buried in broadcast communications of Osama bin Laden or others in his terrorist network could be used to help launch more attacks. TV network executives said Wednesday they would screen and perhaps edit such tape before showing it.

European police were alerted to hunt for eight suspected terrorists linked to bin Laden, U.S. officials said.

In Washington, FBI agents met authorities from Germany, where aspects of the Sept. 11 attacks may have been planned and where at least three of the 19 suspected hijackers worked and studied.

Concern about new attacks rose when the White House asked TV networks to be careful about showing videotaped messages from bin Laden and his organization.

``At best, this is a forum for prerecorded, pretaped propaganda inciting people to kill Americans,'' White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

At worst, the broadcasts could contain signals to ``sleeper'' agents awaiting instructions to act, he added. ``The concern here is not allowing terrorists to receive what might be a message from Osama bin Laden calling on them to take any actions.''

On Tuesday, a top aide to bin Laden said in a videotaped message that the U.S. strikes on Afghanistan ``have opened a new page of animosity between us and the forces of the unbelievers. We will fight them with every material we have.''

Following a conference call with Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and Fox agreed they would not broadcast transmissions from bin Laden's al-Qaida group without first screening and possibly editing them.

In Florida, federal authorities said Wednesday that a third person _ a 35-year-old woman _ has been exposed to anthrax and the case has become a criminal investigation.

While anthrax could be used in a terrorist attack, FBI agent Hector Pesquera said authorities had no evidence it was caused or created by a terrorist group.