Ashcroft Commends Task Force

April 12, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Attorney General John Ashcroft has commended the performance of the Western District of Michigan's Anti-Terrorism Task Force.
At a press conference last week the task force was cited as "an excellent example of local, state and federal partnership." Margaret Chiara, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, made the comment when introducing Ashcroft.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Justice Department directed all U.S. Attorneys to convene an Anti-Terrorism Task Force to coordinate dissemination of information among local, state and federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies, linking them in a national mission against terrorism.

Ashcroft said The U.S. Patriot Act enacted in the attacks' wake profoundly improved avenues for sharing information. "When you lose 3,000 or more people in one day, you know that prosecution is not enough of a strategy — that prevention has to become a major overriding priority."

The Justice Department also interviewed about 5,000 men aged 18 to 33 who entered the U.S. after Jan. 1, 2000, from countries with high levels of Al Qaeda presence and activity. West Michigan's task force contacted 85 foreign nationals seeking their assistance and cooperation in the investigation into the attacks.

"We thought, yes, if they came here to enjoy the law-abiding, freedom-loving environment of the United States, they would be willing to assist us. And I must say that this community led the way in providing the right kind of communications," Ashcroft said.

He said some people have from cultures where law enforcement is not the friend of freedom were initially reluctant to cooperate.

"But once they learned through this interview process that in America those who guard freedom, the friends of freedom, are those who enforce the laws, and that the object of freedom in America and the object of security in America is to secure American liberty, this cooperation began to flourish.

"One of the examples of this kind of success was in the experience here in the Western District of Michigan where a joint task force of local, state and federal officers located and interviewed 98 percent of the individuals that we had on the list for interview."

"This kind of success has led to a second phase of interviews, which will continue to provide a basis for security in America."

A second round will involve some 3,000 recent arrivals with passports from countries where Al Qaeda has a strong presence or are highly active.

While many interviewees in the first round were men of Middle Eastern descent, he said this time the country of origin will be the basis for selecting interviewees. He said age categories will be different this time around as well.

Ashcroft said the Department of Justice is prepared to provide grants and aid, and is focusing more resources on making sure local and state law enforcement has the necessary tools for the war against terrorism.

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