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Ashcroft: Groups Could be Monitored

by John Solomon, Associated Press, 2 December 2001


WASHINGTON (AP) - Investigators are examining similarities between the last three terrorist attacks on Americans, as Attorney General John Ashcroft warns that perpetrators won't be able to hide behind religious or political protections.

"People who hijack a religion and make out of it an implement of war will not be free from our interest," Ashcroft said Sunday. He suggested that federal agents could monitor political or religious groups despite First Amendment protections if the groups are suspected of terrorism.

The Senate's top Democrat said, meanwhile, he might support the narrow use of secret military tribunals to try terrorists.

"Under certain circumstances - very, very restricted circumstances, depending on how it's handled - I'm willing to look at it," said Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

"With regard to the situation in Afghanistan in particular, trying a Taliban or terrorist or . . . people involved in terrorist activity, clearly there's at least the possibility that something like that might have merit," Daschle said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The comments offered a preview of a Senate hearing this week at which Ashcroft will address criticism by both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans concerned the new legal tactics will erode civil liberties.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that investigators have gathered evidence showing similarities among the last three terrorist attacks against Americans by Osama bin Laden's supporters.

Those attacks include the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings, the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen and the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the similarities included the way the attacks were planned, communicated and carried out, and the way the attackers were trained. The officials declined to be more specific.

"There are certainly similarities among the three, some of which have emerged more clearly in the last few weeks," one official said.

The investigators said they also are examining whether some of the same people were involved in planning and assisting the three attacks. One official said authorities are waiting for more information from authorities in Yemen and other countries about certain suspects.

Ashcroft previewed his appearance Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he will confront criticism about some of the Justice Department's hardline tactics.

"We're going to do what we need to do to protect the American people," Ashcroft said on ABC's "This Week" when asked whether restrictions designed in the 1970s to protect religious and political groups from government monitoring were being eased.

"We will respect the rights of political freedom and religious freedom, and we are deeply committed to that," he said.

"But for so-called terrorists to gather over themselves some robe of clericism . . . and claim immunity from being observed, people who hijack a religion and make out of it an implement of war will not be free from our interest."

Copyright © 2001 The Associated Press
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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