New York Times
November 3, 2001


Justice Dept. Alters Stand on 3 Detained


By DON VAN NATTA Jr.

WASHINGTON -- Backing away from remarks by Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Justice Department suggested today that it did not know whether three Arab men now in custody in Michigan had advance knowledge of the terror attacks of Sept. 11.

"At this time, the Department of Justice does not take the position that the three Michigan men had knowledge of the Sept. 11 events," the department said in its statement.

At a news briefing on Wednesday, Mr. Ashcroft said the three men were "suspected of having knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks."

That was the first time Mr. Aschroft had directly linked to the attacks any of more than 1,100 people who have now been detained in the nationwide investigation. The attorney general cited the arrest of the three men, on charges of falsifying documents, as an example of the authorities' strategy of trying to thwart new attacks by seizing people suspected of having ties to terrorist cells.

But since his remarks, other senior law enforcement officials have said that although the men were suspected when they were arrested in September of having links to Al Qaeda, no hard evidence of such links had since emerged.

At his news briefing on Wednesday, Mr. Aschroft did not identify the men. But other law enforcement officials have identified them as Karim Koubriti, 23; Ahmen Hannan, 33; and Youssef Hmimssa, 30.

"We have always been suspicious of them, but we have nothing firm linking them to Sept. 11," a senior law enforcement official said.

Mr. Koubriti and Mr. Hannan were arrested in the Detroit apartment of another man suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda. In the apartment, the authorities found a day planner bearing notations in Arabic that included what Mr. Ashcroft said was a diagram of an airport flight line. The authorities also report having found false immigration forms, a fraudulent United States visa and a false alien identification card.

The Detroit Free Press today quoted lawyers for two of the men as saying they had been unable to respond to Mr. Ashcroft's accusation because a federal judge in Detroit issued an order on Oct. 22 barring parties to the case from discussing it.

Copyright 2001, New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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