WASHINGTON – A Palestinian man with a kit to make box cutters and a Pakistani man interested in hunting near a nuclear facility are among 603 people detained by U.S. terrorism investigators, government documents show.
Others were held for alleged violations with no obvious connection to past or future attacks, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
Attorney General John Ashcroft revealed Tuesday the government was detaining 603 people, most of them on immigration charges. He insisted the actions removed suspected terrorists from the streets and nabbed members of Usama bin Laden's network.
``We will use every constitutional tool to keep suspected terrorists locked up,'' Ashcroft told a news conference. He went beyond previous statements that some 1,100 people had been detained since Sept. 11 and that a majority remained in custody. He said 104 people have been charged with federal crimes in the probe.
In his most detailed public accounting yet, Ashcroft released the names of those facing federal charges, but he refused to provide names for the hundreds held on immigration violations.
``I am not interested in providing, when we are at war, a list to Usama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network of the people we have detained that would make any easier their effort to kill Americans,'' the attorney general said.
One lawmaker pressing for more disclosures wasn't satisfied.
``I continue to be deeply troubled by (the Justice Department's) refusal to provide a full accounting of everyone who has been detained and why,'' Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., said.
Several former high-ranking FBI officials interviewed by The Washington Post suggested the Justice Department was resurrecting tactics the government rejected in the late 1970s because they did not prevent terrorism and led to abuses of civil liberties.
One of the officials, former FBI Director William H. Webster, said Ashcroft's policy of pre-emptive arrests and detentions ``carries a lot of risk with it. You may interrupt something, but you may not be able to bring it down. You may not be able to stop what is going on.''
One of those detained, Mohdar Mohamed Abdoulah, a 23-year-old San Diego college student from Yemen, originally was held as a material witness, meaning he may have information important to the investigation. He was arrested and taken to New York City for grand jury testimony about his acquaintance with a Sept. 11 hijacker.
Abdoulah was returned to San Diego and charged with immigration violations. While a federal magistrate has granted Abdoulah his release on $500,000 bail, he remains in custody because property pledged for bail money is still $125,000 short, said his lawyer, Kerry Steigerwalt.
Steigerwalt has his own problems in defending his client. ``The evidence has not been totally revealed by prosecutors,'' he said. ``I don't know the strength of the case.''
The lawyer's job is further complicated because of a new Justice Department policy to monitor conversations between detainees and their lawyers.
``There is a camera position right above us recording our entire encounter,'' Steigerwalt said of his meetings with Abdoulah in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego. ``This certainly has had a chilling effect on what we discussed.''
Another case involves a Pakistani man who took video footage of the World Trade Center a few days before the Sept. 11 attacks. Raza Nasir Khan was accused by federal agents in Wilmington, Del., with being an illegal immigrant who possessed firearms, documents show.
A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms affidavit also alleged the Pakistani man requested maps of a hunting area near a rural Salem County, N.J., nuclear power plant and had a handheld global positioning system device.
The magistrate who ordered Khan held said she didn't see any connection to terrorism. In fact, few of the hundreds of pages of supporting documents provided to Congress mentioned a connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.
In northern California, an Immigration and Naturalization Service affidavit alleged that Nabil Sarama, a Palestinian, made a false statement to obtain a permanent residency card. Sarama was arrested Sept. 16 in Orlando, Fla., after police found him near a pay phone that had been used to make bomb threats, the documents alleged.
A search of his suitcase, the affidavit said, turned up a kit capable of making between eight and 12 box cutters — like the weapons used by the Sept. 11 hijackers. He also had a California Department of Motor Vehicles identification card, a Georgia driver's license, four Florida identification cards and a Palestinian Authority passport.
Government computer records show that between 1994 and 2001, Sarama entered the United States on at least five occasions through at least five ports and also used passports from Israel and Jordan.
Many of the court papers given to Congress charged individuals with non-terrorist crimes, including child pornography, Social Security fraud, illegal firearm possession, credit card fraud and immigration violations. One alleged possession of more than $40,000 worth of stolen Kellogg's cereals.
Ashcroft disclosed that the 603 people in custody consisted of 55 held on federal criminal charges and 548 on immigration violations. Forty-nine others who have been charged with crimes are either being sought or have been released on bond, officials said.
Ashcroft did not mention some key suspects, including Mohammed Jaweed Azmath and Ayub Ali Khan, arrested aboard a train in Texas. Authorities said the two were carrying box cutters, cash and hair dye, and had shaved their bodies of hair as was recommended by hijacking ringleader Mohamed Atta.
Also left off his list was Zacarias Moussaoui, a French-Algerian, detained in Minnesota after raising suspicions by seeking training on how to fly large jetliners.