First criminal charges filed as FBI finds airport diagrams in residence of three Detroit men

Wednesday, September 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Attorney General John Ashcroft said Wednesday the terrorists behind the attacks on the United States likely received support from foreign governments and that it was too early to tell if surprise arrests in Michigan were a major break in the case.

Emerging from a visit at the Pentagon that was badly damaged by last week's attacks, the attorney general raised the possible involvement of foreign states.

``It is pretty clear that the networks that conduct these kind of events are harbored, supported, sustained and protected by a variety of foreign governments,'' he said.

``It is time for those governments to understand with crystal clarity that the United States of America will not tolerate that kind of support for networks that would inflict this kind of damage on the American people.''

Ashcroft said authorities were still reviewing the first criminal charges in the investigation, involving three men near Detroit who had false documents and airport diagrams. He said it was too early to tell if the arrests were a break in the 8-day-old investigation.

The arrests occurred after FBI agents raided a residence 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 trio was charged Tuesday in Detroit with fraud and misuse of visas, passports and other immigration documents.

Authorities continued to follow a money trail leading to the terrorist network.

Federal banking regulators on Wednesday distributed a list of 21 possible suspects to all banks nationwide, asking them to research any accounts or financial transactions in the suspects' names and report them immediately to the FBI.

The list included most of the 19 men identified as hijackers and a few other names of men the FBI is seeking.

And agents contacted Muslim leaders in the nation's capital asking for help. Stanley Cohen, an attorney, said at least three clients who are Muslim leaders in Washington received contacts from the FBI ``asking for help gathering intelligence on the Muslim community.'' Cohen said his three clients declined.

On Tuesday, Ashcroft expanded the terrorism investigation to include U.S. attorneys in every city, vowing to wage a ``concerted national assault.''

Aided by a federal grand jury in White Plains, N.Y., the investigation has detained 75 people for questioning and has four people under arrest as material witnesses.

The government also announced a new policy giving investigators wide latitude in detaining the noncitizens whom it takes into custody on possible immigration violations in the terrorist probe. Officials would be allowed 48 hours, or longer in emergencies, to decide whether to charge an alien with status violations, up from 24 hours. The Justice Department also has drafted legislation that would allow the attorney general to arrest and deport suspected terrorists without presenting evidence in a court, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

In the criminal case against the three men in Detroit, an affidavit filed in court provided a glimpse of the FBI's massive investigation. But the court papers gave no indication that the FBI believed the three men had anything to do with last week's terrorist attacks that led to the destruction of New York's World Trade Center and heavy damage to the Pentagon.

In a five-page document, FBI special agent Robert Pertuso said that he and agents on the Joint Terrorism Task Force in the Detroit FBI recovered ``handwritten sketches of what appeared to be a diagram of an airport flight line, to include aircraft and runways'' when they went to a residence as part of the probe of the World Trade Center attack. They were looking for a man on ``a list of suspects, potential associates of the suspects and potential witnesses,'' Pertuso wrote.

They found the name of the man they were looking for on the mailbox outside, but the three men in the residence denied knowing him. The agents spotted Detroit Metropolitan Airport identification badges for food service workers and the men said they were previously employed at the airport.

In addition to the false papers and the sketches, the agents observed a day planner containing notations on the ``American base in Turkey,'' the ``American foreign minister'' and ``Alia Airport,'' Jordan, the FBI affidavit said. The affidavit did not explain the reference to ``U.S. foreign minister.'' The three men are Karim Koubriti, 23; Ahmed Hannan, 33; and Farouk Ali-Haimoud, 21. The man the FBI was hunting for was Nabil Al-Marabh.

The landlord, Sadik Tawil, told The Associated Press through a cousin who acted as interpreter that Al-Marabh lived there for about three months and left in July 2000. He said the other men moved in Sept. 5 and he didn't know why Al-Marabh's name was still on the mailbox.

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 were investigating whether more flights were targeted for hijackings beyond the four that were hijacked and crashed on Sept. 11.

Among the four material witnesses under arrest was Albader Alhazmi, 34, a Saudi national and Saudi-trained doctor who was 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.