Transcript: Ashcroft: 'A defining day'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal agents have charged five American citizens and a U.S. resident with operating a terror cell in the United States, and giving support to the al Qaeda terror network. Attorney General John Ashcroft addressed the media and gave further details.
JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you. Today is a defining day in America's war against terrorism.
We've neutralized a suspected terrorist cell within our borders. We've convicted an attempted suicide bomber, and an American pledged and trained and captured in violent Jihad is sentenced.
Earlier today, agents of the Portland and Detroit Joint Terrorism Task Forces arrested suspected terrorist cell members charged with engaging in a conspiracy to join al Qaeda and to join Taliban forces fighting against the United States and allied soldiers in Afghanistan.
The alleged conspiracy names six defendants, five of whom are U.S. citizens, including one individual with U.S. military training: Jeffrey Battle, Patrice Lumumba Ford, Muhammad Bilal, Ahmed Bilal, Habis Al-Saoub and October Lewis are charged with four counts: count one, Conspiracy to levy war against the United States; count two, Conspiracy to provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations; count three, Conspiracy to contribute services to al Qaeda and the Taliban; count four, Possession of firearms in furtherance of crimes of violence.
Four of the accused are currently in custody. Two remain at large overseas. If convicted of the crimes, the defendants will face up to life in prison.
Today's arrests follow the capture in suburban Buffalo, New York, of six individuals charged with aiding terrorism.
In addition, U.S. residents in other settings have been indicted for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
With today's arrests, we have charged more than 17 individuals since August the 28th.
The facts alleged in the indictment are these: Following the attacks of September the 11th, 2001, defendants Battle, Ford, Muhammad Bilal and Ahmed Bilal and Al-Saoub acquired various firearms and engaged in weapons training and physical training for preparation to fight a Jihad. In October 2001, as United States troops entered into battle against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the indictment charges that Battle, Ford, Muhammad Bilal, Ahmed Bilal and Al-Saoub began to travel to Afghanistan to join forces with Taliban and al Qaeda troops battling United States and allied military personnel.
The indictment charges that the five defendants purchased airline tickets to Hong Kong with the intent of travelling to Taliban controlled Afghanistan via China and Pakistan.
On November 2, 2001, Battle told his ex-wife and alleged co-conspirator, October Lewis, that the group had encountered difficulties crossing the border of China into Afghanistan. The indictment charges that on eight occasions, Lewis wired money to Battle overseas with the knowledge that the money would be used to support his attempt to reach Afghanistan to fight with Taliban and al Qaeda forces.
The indictment further charges that while in Bangladesh attempting to gain entry into Afghanistan, Battle caused himself to be discharged administratively from the United States Army Reserve, in which he had enlisted in order to receive military training intended for use against the United States.
According to the indictment, three of the defendants, Battle, Ford and Muhammad Bilal, returned to the United States in late 2001 and early 2002. They and alleged co-conspirator October Lewis are in custody of federal authorities at this hour.
I want to thank many local, state and federal law enforcement officers who worked together to bring about these arrests. Today's case is a textbook example of the central role that cooperation with local, state and federal enforcement officials -- cooperation plays in the prevention of terrorist attacks.
In December 2001, Portland authorities were contacted by a Skamania County, Washington, sheriff, Charles Brian from Washington state, who recognized one of the defendants from news reports of an Oregon criminal case with possible terrorist links.
One of Sheriff Brian's deputies, Mark Mercer, had come upon the defendant among a group of people shooting weapons while trespassing on private land.
The information provided by Sheriff Brian and his Deputy Sheriff Mercer helped lead Oregon authorities to the individuals arrested today.
In addition to these arrests, two self-confessed enemy soldiers in the war on terrorism meet justice in the United States courts today. In Boston, Richard Colvin Reid pleads guilty to all counts in the indictment for attempting to ignite a bomb on American Airlines Flight 63 and to murder 179 passengers and crew.
This morning, Richard Reid confessed in open court that he is a member of al Qaeda, pledged to Osama bin Ladin, and confessed in open court that he is an enemy of the United States.
In addition, John Walker Lindh is scheduled to be sentenced this afternoon in federal court in Virginia.
Today is a victory for justice and for the citizens who are vigilant in the pursuit of justice. Though he was captured on the other side of the world, allied with terrorists who loathe our freedom and mock our justice, John Walker Lindh was brought to America to answer for his actions.
It was the heroic efforts of the citizens aboard American Airlines Flight 63 that stopped Richard Reid in the midst of his attempt to kill hundreds.
Thank to the outstanding work of our prosecutors, in less than a year, both cases have reached resolution. Both criminals have been brought to justice here in the United States. I want to thank Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson for his outstanding help on a continuing basis in pursuing these matters, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, who heads the criminal division. Each of these individuals has been important in the Department of Justice in securing justice in these cases.
In specific, I want to extend my appreciation to the United States attorney in Portland, Oregon, Mike Mossman, for his leadership.
I want to express my gratitude to Portland FBI Special Agent in Charge Charlie Matthews and all of the agents in the bureau who have been so diligent and who have been successful in this matter.
Today is a day of justice for the citizens, the soldiers and law enforcement officers who defend our nation and our values and defend them each and every day. It is a day both of victory and a day of resolve; of well deserved thanks for a job well done coupled with a rededication to the job that lies ahead.
And today is a day of vindication for the nation and President Bush. Over one year ago, we pledged to expend every effort and devote every available resource to intercept terrorists and defend our nation. And in the words of President Bush, "We will not relent until justice and done and our nation is secure."
He put it this way, "What our enemies have begun, we will finish." The president was right. And we will continue to work to achieve these objectives.
I'm pleased now to call upon the director of the FBI, Bob Mueller.
ROBERT MUELLER, DIRECTOR, FBI: Thanks, General.
ASHCROFT: Congratulations to you.
MUELLER: Good afternoon, the work that was accomplished today in Oregon was not the work of just the FBI, it was the work of state and local law enforcement, and I want to today thank the cooperative efforts of the FBI's joint terrorism task forces in Portland, Oregon, in Oregon but also in Detroit, as well as our partners in state and local law enforcement throughout the country.
Also, I want to thank other government agencies for their extraordinary efforts as well as key foreign partners who have helped us in this global war against terrorism.
As we have often said over the last year, fighting terrorism is the FBI's primary mission. And those who support terrorists or engage in acts of terrorism will be brought to justice. And we come to this battle, I believe, well armed, with dedicated personnel, which are critical to the war on terrorism.
State-of-the-art technology helps, but in the end, we depend on the seamless partnerships with our partners here and abroad and the support of our citizens. And for that, I am most grateful. And let me assure you that the FBI will continue to take all steps that are necessary to ensure the safety and security of the citizens of the United States.