FBI releases photos of 19 attack suspects
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. investigators released photographs of the 19 men who they believe hijacked the four airplanes involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, calling on people who may have had contact with them in the past to pass on their information to the FBI.
"This is another step in what, in effect, is part of a national neighborhood watch," said U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. He said federal investigators have received more than 100,000 tips over the telephone and via the Internet as they try to find those responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington.
The FBI has established a toll-free number to report any tips at 1-866-483-5137, and a Web site at www.ifccfbi.gov.
"It is our hope that the release of these photographs will prompt others who may have seen the hijackers or been in contact with them to contact the FBI with any information they may have that would be helpful with the investigation," Ashcroft said.
In other developments in the investigation:
-- At least 18 people have been arrested in several states in connection with alleged efforts to fraudulently obtain commercial trucking licenses allowing the transportation of hazardous materials, authorities said Wednesday night. Citing the potential for other terrorist attacks, the FBI is checking the records of all truck drivers licensed to carry hazardous materials, including explosives and poisons.
-- In Spain, police arrested six Algerians who are believed to have links to suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and who were thought to be helping to prepare attacks on U.S. targets in Europe, the Spanish government said Wednesday.
-- In Britain, police arrested three people under the nation's terrorism law. French authorities said one is a French citizen of North African ancestry wanted by authorities in connection with planned attacks on U.S. interests in France.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said the photographs have been matched to passenger lists for the four hijacked flights, but investigators are checking to see whether the men may have used false identities. Mueller said one or more of the men have ties to al Qaeda, the organization headed by Osama bin Laden.
Ashcroft also said the White House has sent a legislative package to Congress to tighten money laundering laws as they seek to tighten the screws on bin Laden and other terrorists.
Among other provisions, the legislation would make it a crime to launder the proceeds of foreign crimes in the United States. Smuggling more than $10,000 in currency into or out of the country, or transporting such sums across state lines with the intent to commit a crime, would be criminalized.
The package also would allow courts to freeze assets of criminal defendants awaiting trial, including terrorists, in order to keep those funds from being transferred to others. Current law allows forfeiture judgments only after conviction. "We believe that it makes sense to allow the freezing of such assets earlier," Ashcroft said. The proposals have been introduced in the past two sessions of Congress, but did not win final approval.
Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said Thursday there has been progress in "finding and freezing" the assets of terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden.
Asked if there had been any progress in finding the assets of bin Laden, O'Neill said, "Yes, both finding and freezing, and not just by the U.S. but by other governments."
O'Neill did not elaborate on what had been found or where, but said "serious money is being blocked now."
Earlier this week, President Bush announced an order freezing the U.S. assets of 27 groups, corporations and individuals. Bush said he wanted to cut off the financial life's blood of groups like bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which he and U.S. officials say is suspected of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
O'Neill was one of the administration officials who worked the phones with international leaders to urge them to initiate a search for assets.
"The response from the G-7 finance ministers was like what I've had from finance ministers and presidents and prime ministers all over the world," he said. "Without exception, they've all said we'll do everything that we can to help the U.S. to go after and secure these terrorists in one way or another. And serious money is being blocked now.
"We've taken off the wraps. We're gonna go after the financial flows that these people have had access to, and we will shut down everything that we can find."
O'Neill said the terrorist attacks had crystallized the determination of governments to cut off the flow of funds to terror groups.
"There's a coalescence of governments saying, 'Yes, we will identify people with you and for you and we will take action at your request, and we will not wait until we're 110 percent sure,' " O'Neill said. "We'll probably make a few mistakes along the way and have to apologize for blocking funds, but we are determined that we are going to do this."
-- CNN correspondents Kelli Arena, Susan Candiotti, Al Goodman and Eileen O'Connor and producers Kevin Bohn, Terry Frieden and Stanley Wilson contributed to this report.
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