Ashcroft warns of ‘clear and present danger’ as probe focuses on hazardous chemical trucks
WASHINGTON (AP) – Attorney General John Ashcroft warned Tuesday there was a ”clear and present danger” of additional terrorist attacks that could include trucks carrying hazardous chemicals. About 20 people have been charged with trying to obtain fraudulent licenses to drive tankers, officials said.
Some of those arrested in connection with the hazardous tanker licenses may have connections to the hijackers, the Justice Department said.
The new warning came as the investigation into the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings made progress across the globe.
French authorities detained several people in connection with an alleged plot against the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
U.S. authorities detained three Middle Eastern men in California as material witnesses – meaning they could have information useful in the case – and also released a Saudi doctor living in Texas who had been taken into custody and brought to New York for questioning earlier in the investigation.
Al-Badr Al-Hazmi, a radiologist whose name was similar to two of the 19 hijackers, returned to San Antonio after nearly two weeks in custody as a material witness.
A law enforcement source, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said authorities questioned the doctor about whether his credit card may have been stolen by the hijackers or their associates.
”What happened on Sept. 11 doesn’t have anything to do with any religion and nothing to do with Islam,” said Al-Hazmi. ”Hatred is evil and love is good.”
In Washington, Ashcroft told Congress that there is continuing danger from terrorism, and that one threat the FBI is examining is whether trucks that carry toxic chemicals may be targets.
”Terrorism is a clear and present danger to Americans today,” Ashcroft told senators. ”Intelligence information available to the FBI indicates a potential for additional terrorist incidents.”
Ashcroft said some of those detained had unlawfully obtained or tried to obtain licenses that would enable them to drive trucks hauling chemicals or other hazardous materials.
Some of those seeking licenses ”may have links to the hijackers” of the four planes on Sept. 11, Ashcroft testified.
A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the total number of people being detained in connection with hazardous licenses was around 20. The official declined to specify how many have connections to the terrorists.
One man who has been arrested, Nabil Al-Marabh, 34, a former Boston cab driver taken into custody in Chicago last week, holds a commercial driver’s license and is certified to transport hazardous materials, records show.
Al-Marabh has been moved to New York for questioning.
The FBI has warned oil and gas companies, hazardous waste haulers and local police to be on the alert for suspicious activities around chemical plants or storage grounds.
They also have warned owners of farm crop-dusters to protect the small aircraft from being commandeered and used to spray chemical or biological agents. On that front, a convicted terrorist collaborator testified just two months ago in an unrelated trial in New York that he trained for a chemical attack at a camp inside Afghanistan where poison was unleashed to kill dogs.
”In regard to targets in general … we were speaking about America,” Ahmed Ressam told the court in July. Ressam testified terrorist trainers discussed dispensing poison through the air intake vents of buildings to ensure the maximum amount of casualties.
The FBI is investigating whether some of the hijackers who destroyed the World Trade Center practiced their approaches by renting small planes at New Jersey flight schools and flying along the Hudson River toward the twin towers, an FBI spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Agents are pursuing tips that hijackers mounted test runs in small planes, but FBI Special Agent Sandra Carroll said investigators have neither confirmed nor ruled out ”that they could have rented planes and rehearsed.”
In France, anti-terrorist police detained at least four people early Tuesday in connection with a planned attack on the U.S. Embassy in Paris and other U.S. interests in France. Seven people already were in custody in France in connection with the alleged plot.
-Three men in San Diego who authorities believe knew some of the suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks have been detained as material witnesses and could be sent to testify before a grand jury in New York, a law enforcement official said.
-In Arkansas, one of five people stopped for speeding has a name that is on the FBI’s list of people it wants to talk to in the investigation, said Cross County Sheriff Ronnie Baldwin. All five were detained at the FBI’s request.
-A Saudi man arrested 13 miles south of Dulles Airport the night after the terror attacks passed an FBI-administered polygraph test and faces only an immigration charge, said his attorney. Drew Hutcheson said Khalid al-Draibi was cleared by the FBI after being asked whether he had any involvement in the attacks or whether he knew anything about them in advance.
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