November 14, 2001

US Wants to Talk to 5, 000 Foreigners About Attacks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The U.S. government has compiled a list of more than 5,000 foreign men living in the United States it wants to question about the Sept. 11 attacks, officials said on Tuesday.

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said the department is circulating the list, drawn up with the help of the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, to the 94 U.S. attorneys' offices around the country.

``It's a list that's been developed of people who might have information,'' Tucker said, noting that the government was seeking clues to help find anybody who might have planned the Sept. 11 attacks and prevent future attacks.

``They are not suspects, they are simply people who we want to talk to because they may have helpful information,'' she said, adding that the interviews would be ``consensual.''

The people are all males, aged 18 to 33, who entered the United States on non-immigrant visas after Jan. 1, 2000, from specific countries.

The list of countries was not provided. Tucker said the countries of interest were not necessarily the individuals' native countries but were places that known al Qaeda operatives were last in before entering the United States.

The United States has blamed Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network for the Sept. 11 attacks that killed some 4,600 people when hijackers slammed airplanes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

Civil rights groups criticized the Justice Department for the latest move.

``This looks like someone said make me a list of young Arab and Muslim immigrant men, but make it look like it's not based on ethnicity,'' said David Cole, an attorney with the liberal Center for Constitutional Rights and professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

``With the possible exception of Germany, every country on that list is likely to be Arab or Muslim, and those interrogated will be virtually all Arab or Muslim. This is as close as you get to ethnic profiling without literally relying on ethnicity.''

Rights groups have been concerned about broad new powers given to the Justice Department which Ashcroft says is conducting an aggressive arrest and detention campaign to prevent future terrorist attacks.

In a Nov. 9 memo to U.S. Attorneys and members of anti-terrorism task forces, Ashcroft rejected the claims.

``These individuals were not selected in order to single out a particular ethnic or religious group, or to suggest that one ethnic or religious group is more prone to terrorism than another,'' said the memo, released by the Justice Department on Tuesday.

``I want all to understand there is no place for ethnic or religious stereotyping in this plan, or in this nation's campaign against terrorism.''


Ashcroft requested that the interviews be completed within 30 days. ``This is an ambitious schedule but one mandated by the urgency of the mission,'' he said.

``It has been clear since Sept. 11 that further terrorist attacks against the United States are likely... These interviews ... will provide information and leads that will help us identify and apprehend terrorists in our midst before they have an opportunity to cause more pain and suffering to the American people.''

In a separate memo, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson

urged interviewers to use ``all appropriate means'' to encourage an individual to cooperate.

Thompson sent around guidelines on what questions enforcement officers can ask and which would be out of bounds. Interviewers are instructed not to ask, for example, about the person's religious beliefs.

Copyright 2001. Reuters. All rights reserved.

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