U.S., Europe had suspected terrorists under watch
Evidence shows broader conspiracy, ex-FBI agent says
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Suspected terrorists in the United States and Europe had been under investigation long before this month's deadly attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but the probes have intensified since then and led to numerous arrests.
As yet, none of the arrests have been tied to the September 11 attacks, but law enforcement sources said they point to what could be a broader -- if unrelated -- plot or plots to target U.S. interests. Law enforcement officials caution that in some cases there is no evidence of any nefarious plan, but their suspicions have been aroused by what seems like odd, allegedly illegal, behavior.
For example, at least 10 people were arrested in three states in connection with alleged efforts to fraudulently obtain commercial trucking licenses allowing the transportation of hazardous materials. Ten others are being sought.
The arrests, revealed Wednesday night, followed U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's comments that "several individuals" sought such license and some of them "may" have links to the hijackers implicated in the terrorist attacks.
But the licenses in question were issued in 1999 and 2000, and the probe into the scheme -- in which a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation worker allegedly sold the licenses to individuals who had not taken the required tests -- was more than a year old by the time of fatal hijackings.
Bill Daley, a former FBI investigator, said he believes the activity of the past two weeks points to a broader conspiracy and some of it will eventually be tied to the attacks.
"At this point, what we are looking at is people who may have some direct connection with the terrorists, people who have had phone conversations, e-mails, cell phone contact or other firsthand accounts of people aiding and abetting them," Daley said, adding that he is "convinced" that more attacks have been averted.
"It is not to say that at this point we have all these people," Daley added. "I believe there will be hundreds linked that have provided some level of support."
In Europe, there have been raids and arrests in several countries. The most recent were announced Wednesday:
Spanish police have 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 the six belong to an Algerian Islamic terrorist cell called the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, which is on the list of 27 terror-related entities whose assets have been ordered frozen by the Bush administration.
In Britain, police arrested three people in Leicester under the nation's terrorism law. French authorities say one is a French citizen of North African ancestry wanted by authorities in connection with planned attacks on U.S. interests in France.
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