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Ashcroft: Suspected al Qaeda members in U.S. custody

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has detained a "number of individuals" who are believed to be members of the al Qaeda terrorist network as part of the investigation into the September 11 terrorist attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday.

"We believe we have al Qaeda membership in custody, and we will use every constitutional tool to keep suspected terrorists locked up," the attorney general said.

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Ashcroft said federal charges have been filed against 104 people -- 55 of whom are in custody. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has another 548 in custody for immigration violations. Al Qaeda is the network run by suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Some of the charges range from helping the September 11 hijackers obtain fraudulent documents to lying to a grand jury about possible ties to the hijackers. A Justice Department official told CNN that 11 cases remain under seal.

Ashcroft would not say if any of the individuals in custody are suspected to have played direct roles in the terrorist attacks or how many are suspected al Qaeda members, but he indicated some in custody were planning other attacks.

"With arrests and detentions, we have avoided further major terrorist attacks, and we've avoided these further major terrorist attacks despite threats and videotape tauntings," Ashcroft said.

"The Department of Justice is waging a deliberate campaign of arrest and detention to protect American lives. We are removing suspected terrorists who violate the law from our streets."

He said he would not release a list of names of those in U.S. custody because doesn't want "to advertise to the opposing side that we have al Qaeda membership in custody.

"When the United States is at war, I will not share valuable intelligence with our enemies," Ashcroft said. "The al Qaeda network may be able to get information about which terrorists we have in our custody, but they'll have to get it on their own."

Earlier this month, Ashcroft announced that the United States intended to spend 30 days interviewing 5,000 more immigrants who, the attorney general said, fit "a set of generic parameters" that investigators of the September 11 terrorist attacks had established.

Critics of the U.S. move to interview the 5,000 people have labeled the action as racial profiling. Last week, police in Portland, Oregon, announced they would not assist U.S. authorities in questioning the people, citing state laws that govern racial profiling.



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