October 29, 2001

Bush Sets Up Task Force to Identify Terrorists

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Vowing to protect Americans from ''any threat whatsoever,'' President Bush set up a task force on Monday to stop would-be terrorists from entering the United States by tightening up enforcement of immigration policies.

At the first meeting of his Homeland Security Council, Bush said he believed Americans were patient as the U.S. bombing campaign continued in its fourth week in Afghanistan and authorities tried to get a grip on an anthrax scare at home.

``They understand better than most, better than the world, that this is going to take a long period of time and they are prepared for this,'' he said.

Bush said the ``Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force'' would require immigration authorities to ask tough questions of foreigners seeking student visas to study in the United States and make they actually attend classes.

Nine of the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 suicide hijack attacks were in the United States legally, some on student visas, leading to criticism of U.S. immigration policies.

``We welcome legal immigrants. We welcome people coming to America. We welcome the process that encourages people to come to our country to visit, to study or to work,'' Bush said.

``What we don't welcome are people who come to hurt the American people, and so therefore, we're going to be very diligent with our visas and observant with the behavior of people who come to this country.''

The task force will coordinate federal efforts to deny entry to people suspected of being engaged in terrorist activity. It will also aim to locate, detain, prosecute or deport any such foreigners already in the country.

It is being established by Attorney General John Ashcroft and will include experts from the State Department, FBI , Immigration and Naturalization Service, Secret Service, Customs, and the intelligence community.


A presidential directive setting up the task force ordered the government to institute tighter controls and ensure student visas are being issued appropriately. ``A goal of the program is to prohibit the education and training of foreign nationals who would use their training to harm the United States and its allies,'' the White House said.

Seeking to deny potential terrorists easy entry into the United States from neighboring Canada and Mexico, the directive also ordered the government to increase the sharing of customs and immigration information with those two countries.

``Our task is to do everything we can to protect the American people from any threat whatsoever,'' Bush said. ``Along these lines, we've set up a foreign terrorist tracking task force to make sure that the land of the free is as safe as possible from people who might come to our country to hurt people.''

The task force comes as the Bush administration continues to warn Americans of the possibility of more terror attacks in response to U.S. retaliation against Osama bin Laden , his al Qaeda network and their Taliban protectors for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States that killed about 4,800 people.

``We believe that the country must stay on the alert, that our enemies still hate us,'' Bush said. ``Our enemies have no values that regard life as precious. They are active. And therefore, we're constantly in touch with our law enforcement officials to be prepared.''

Copyright 2001. Reuters News Service. All rights reserved.

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