Nov 17: News Updates from Afghanistan
BRUSSELS, Nov 14 (IPS) - The capture of the Afghan capital, Kabul, this week by Northern Alliance fighters, has raised EU's hopes to resume humanitarian aid to Afghanistan .
The EU Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) is finalising a 15-million euro (13.5-million-U.S. dollar) humanitarian aid for the needy in Afghanistan.
This includes significant assistance for the area around Mazar-I-Sharif, a town captured by the anti-Taliban forces at the weekend that should allow the establishment of a vital corridor to send food aid via Uzbekistan.
''There is good news, as far as access is concerned, from the events of the last 48 hours, because it does give us the opportunity to get more aid into the country'', said Michael Curtis, an EU spokesperson.
Noting the volatile situation in Afghanistan - including reports of killings and looting - he called on all parties to the conflict to respect the neutrality of humanitarian aid and allow free access for humanitarian workers and to guarantee their security.
''The events are encouraging, but we shouldn't get too excited. There was a serious humanitarian situation in Afghanistan before the 11th of September, it has worsened since then and it is not going to get better over night'', he said.
''With the Taliban out of the way in some parts of the country, it does facilitate the access of aid. But it is clear that we are not out of the woods yet'', said Curtis.
There are an estimated one million internally displaced people (IDP) in Afghanistan and nearly four times that number who fled the violence and drought and remain outside the country. In northern Afghanistan, the country's so-called ''hunger belt'', about three million people will have to rely on aid agencies to feed them throughout the winter, which ends in March.
The area around Mazar-I-Sharif has a large population of IDP and ECHO will support three NGOs (Action Contre la Faim-France, SCF-UK and Aide M,dicale Internationale-FR) that are implementing programmes in this location.
Measures for the Mazar-I-Sharif region include therapeutic and supplementary feeding centres (to be established in IDP camps before winter sets in), special food rations for children, and support for hospital and clinics.
Details of the European Commission's decision will be released later in the week once it is formally adopted. Commenting on the proposed decision to focus on the region, Poul Nielson, the European Commissioner responsible for development and humanitarian aid, highlighted the importance of delivering relief inside the whole of Afghanistan.
''With tried and tested aid agencies operating in the humanitarian front line, we are working together to do our utmost to ensure that the relief gets through to those who need it most. Humanitarian assistance is an absolute priority'', he said.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sunday began an emergency airlift of thousands of tents and plastic sheets with the arrival of an Ilyushin-76 cargo plane in Termez, Uzbekistan, carrying 45 tonnes of humanitarian supplies for possible use inside Afghanistan.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP), also operating from the Uzbek border town of Termez, has begun loading tonnes of food into barges ready to send it across the river into Afghanistan, before being taken by truck across northern Afghanistan.
The WFP will unload supplies at Hairaton, a town about 80 kilometres from Mazar-I-Sharif.
This month, the WFP has delivered 27,000 metric tonnes of food aid into Afghanistan - over half the Agency's monthly target - but remains concerned for the safety and security of its local staff, primarily those working in Kabul and Mazar-I Sharif.
However, Curtis acknowledged that the security of the people getting the food in Afghanistan and the local Afghan personnel was of major concern.
''The security situation is compounded by problems with communications. As you know, the Taliban have banned the use of radios - and radios are an essential tool in any humanitarian aid operation to ensure delivery of supplies,'' he said.
''Of course with winter coming and the snow - this adds to the problem. It is a logistical problem, particularly for our partner, the World Food Programme. We are financing their aid deliveries and logistical operations - for example, to clear snow off the mountain passes to increase their volume of trucks,'' said Curtis.
At any given moment over the past few days, WFP had more than 2,000 trucks moving inside Afghanistan, delivering food aid to various parts of the country, in particular rural areas. ''The best way to get aid into Afghanistan at the moment is by road ... We are hoping to finance the purchase of (an additional) 190 trucks,'' he said.
Doubts, however, remain over whether the food is being distributed to the most needy once it arrives, or whether rival fighters are commandeering the supplies to feed their armies.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is reportedly considering offering logistical support to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Aside from hunger, the physical safety of Afghans civilians is a major concern.
Speaking on the sidelines of a human rights conference in Dehli, India, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, expressed concern that the Northern Alliance would exact revenge on populations until recently living in Taliban-controlled areas.
''When territory has changed hands in recent years in Afghanistan, there has been a terrible massacre of civilians, raping of women, a retaliatory sort of destruction by whomever comes in to take a town or a city,'' the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) quoted her as saying. (END)
KABUL (Nov. 16) - Muslims around the world began the holy fasting month of Ramadan Friday but U.S. warplanes and special forces pursued the hard-line Islamic Taliban in Afghanistan without let-up.
President Bush, eager to avoid offending Muslims and aware that key allies such as Pakistan had appealed for a bombing halt over the period, saluted Islam and underlined U.S. humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.
"As the new moon signals the holy month of Ramadan, I extend warm greetings to Muslims throughout the United States and around the world," Bush said in a statement, without mentioning the war.
Top clerics in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, had spotted the new moon, which traditionally marks the start of the month, Thursday night. Saudi Arabia, many countries in the Arab world and Afghanistan itself officially began Ramadan on Friday.
In the Afghan capital Kabul, residents crowded into mosques and preachers used Friday prayers to urge worshipers to hunt down the fighters of Osama bin Laden, prime suspect for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
"For my family, and probably for many people, every day of our lives is like Ramadan, because we have been living for years on tea and bread," one elderly man in the city said.
Speaking through loudspeakers, the voices of mullahs rang out across the war-weary city late Thursday after the sighting of the first pale crescent of the new moon of the ninth month of the lunar calendar.
Afghanistan's Supreme Court declared the start of Ramadan -- the first of the post-Taliban era following the fall of Kabul on Tuesday to the fundamentalist militia's U.S.-backed civil war foes.
SIGHTING OF MOON
The precise timing of the holy month depends on the sighting of the new moon and varies slightly across the Islamic world.
For a month, observant Muslims will fast from dawn to sunset, abstaining from all food and drink, smoking and sexual relations.
This year, the U.S.-led war against Afghanistan's Taliban rulers and their guest bin Laden has preoccupied the world's 1.2 billion Muslims in the run-up to the holy month.
The Taliban and Saudi-born bin Laden have both portrayed the war as a crusade against Islam.
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim state, had called for a pause to the U.S. military campaign during Ramadan.
Although Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan had made a similar appeal, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Islamabad said Friday no pause was foreseen because some objectives of the U.S.-led coalition had not been achieved.
Washington has said a bombing pause would allow bin Laden and the Taliban to regroup and has highlighted Islamic precedents for conflict during Ramadan.
"We are bombing today," a Defense Department spokesman told reporters Friday, the 41st day of bombing in Afghanistan. He said there was "no change in operations as a result of Ramadan."
Religious scholars and political analysts say battles during Ramadan have been common down the ages. They point to the first major victory of Islam at Badr in 624 AD and the conquest of the holy city Mecca, both conducted during the holy month.
Egypt and Syria launched the 1973 war against Israel during Ramadan, while Iran and Iraq did not stop fighting during Ramadan in their 1980-88 war.
But some Muslim commentators say Ramadan bombing raids could reinforce a perception of the Afghan war as a Christian attack on Islam.
MIDDLE EAST TENSIONS
In Asia, Islamic clerics in Pakistan, India and Indonesia declared Saturday the start of the holy month. Pakistan reminded its citizens that daytime eating in public during Ramadan meant going to jail.
In the Middle East, Israeli police deployed in force in Jerusalem and violence flared in the West Bank following Muslim prayers for Ramadan.
Israeli soldiers fired teargas and rubber bullets at stone-throwing Palestinian protesters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Several Palestinians were wounded.
At least three others were injured in scuffles that broke out when police barred some Palestinians from attending prayers in Jerusalem's Old City.
The holiday brings little cheer to Palestinian Muslims this year, with no end in sight to Israeli-Palestinian violence in which nearly 900 people have died since a Palestinian uprising against occupation erupted more than a year ago.
Seven hostages who emerged from months of captivity in the southern Philippines said Friday they were freed by their Muslim guerrilla captors to mark the start of Ramadan.
Fernando Romeo, one of the hostages, said the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, linked by Washington to Osama bin Laden, escorted them down from a mountain lair Wednesday night.
"We were freed because of the Ramadan," Romeo said.
Reuters 13:13 11-16-01
WASHINGTON (Nov. 17) - An errant U.S. bomb damaged a mosque in eastern Afghanistan on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, one of the few American missteps in a week of success against the Taliban.
U.S. special forces troops on the ground in Afghanistan have been ''killing Taliban that won't surrender,'' as well as al-Qaida terrorists, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday. He said reliable reports indicate a U.S. airstrike this week killed one of Osama bin Laden's top advisers - a man who officials believe planned the Sept. 11 attacks.
A Taliban official in southern Afghanistan confirmed Saturday that Mohammed Atef died three days ago along with seven other al-Qaida members. He would not identify the other al-Qaida members killed in the attack.
The U.S. Central Command announced that a stray bomb damaged a mosque Friday in the town of Khowst, in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. The laser-guided, 500-pound bomb dropped by an Air Force plane malfunctioned and did not hit its target, ''a known al-Qaida facility,'' the command said in a statement. Al-Qaida is the terror network headed by the Saudi-born fugitive bin Laden.
''We are unaware of any injuries as a result of the errant bomb,'' the statement said.
No Americans have been killed or wounded in the combat, Rumsfeld said, while disclosing that hundreds of U.S. special operations troops are on the ground in northern and southern Afghanistan assisting opposition forces and hunting al-Qaida leaders. Rumsfeld previously had indicated that their numbers were in the dozens.
''They have gone into places and met resistance and dealt with it,'' he told reporters while flying from Washington to the Navy's recruit training center in Illinois, where he spoke at a graduation ceremony.
At the Pentagon, a senior official estimated that the Taliban have lost control of more than two-thirds of Afghanistan. Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, the deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the areas around Kandahar in the south and Kunduz in the north remained in flux.
Rumsfeld said he has received authoritative reports that Atef, the right-hand man to bin Laden, was killed in an airstrike.
The secretary's description of U.S. special forces operations in Afghanistan was the most detailed yet offered.
''They're killing Taliban that won't surrender and al-Qaida that are trying to move from one place to another,'' he said without elaborating on the circumstances.
The U.S. special forces are carrying out missions for which they are specially trained - not just direct combat against selected targets but also reconnaissance and coordination with opposition forces. They are unconventional warriors fighting in what President Bush said at the start would be the most unconventional of wars.
Some American troops are riding on horseback and packing supplies on donkeys as they gather intelligence, call in airstrikes and help the anti-Taliban forces who have swept across northern Afghanistan in recent days.
Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command, which includes the forces in Afghanistan, was in Washington on Friday to brief Bush on his plan for capitalizing on the Taliban's collapse and finishing off al-Qaida.
Rumsfeld told reporters the original war plan is being ''modestly recalibrated.''
In his speech at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, north of Chicago, Rumsfeld told the new sailors they were about to embark on a ''great adventure.''
''And you are doing it at a time of war,'' he said. He said the Navy is ''coming to the rescue'' in the Arabian Sea, where aircraft carriers have launched the bulk of warplanes that have flown missions in the war against terrorism.
At a news conference after his address, Rumsfeld was asked whether he knew if bin Laden had escaped Afghanistan.
''I suspect he's still in the country,'' he said. ''Needless to say, if we knew his whereabouts, we would have him.''
He said he believes a number of al-Qaida members have been killed, including Atef, suspected of helping plan the Sept. 11 terror attacks that crashed planes in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
''I have seen those reports,'' Rumsfeld said of Atef's reported death. ''Do I know for a fact that that's the case? I don't. The reports I've received seemed authoritative.'' He also said U.S. attacks ''successfully have hit a number of them - particularly in last five or six days.''
Rumsfeld said high-level Taliban leaders have been captured by opposition Afghan forces and American officials are planning to interrogate them.
A second group of Marines, meanwhile, is joining the operation in Afghanistan, defense officials said Friday. About 2,100 Marines aboard a three-ship Amphibious Ready Group, led by the USS Bataan, sailed through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea on Thursday, they said. Another group of 2,100 Marines already is in the Arabian Sea.
KABUL, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Most British special forces who flew into an airbase north of Kabul must leave, although a small number may stay for humanitarian tasks, a senior official of the Northern Alliance that this week seized the Afghan capital said on Saturday.
"There are 85 of them who have come without any prior coordination in the name of humanitarian aid led by the United Nations," Engineer Arif, deputy chief of intelligence for the Northern Alliance, told Reuters.
"Our decision is that 15 of them can stay and the others go," he said after a meeting of Alliance leaders.
"If they accept 15 people then they can stay, otherwise all of them need to go," he said.
Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah had already spoken with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and more talks were expected between the two sides later on Saturday.
UNITED NATIONS (Nov. 16) - Calling for close global cooperation on terrorism, Russia's foreign minister said Friday that the United Nations should consider adopting an international law that would hold nations responsible failing to fight terrorists on their own soil.
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called terrorism the primary threat to the world, and urged ``a radically new approach to international affairs.''
Suggesting that Cold War alliances and post-Cold War agendas must be relegated to the past, he said: ``The time of deliberations and disputes as to what the future world architecture should be or what role should be played in it by this or that state has passed irrevocably.''
``For the sake of future generations, we simply must close the ranks of the international community and set about taking concrete action,'' Ivanov told the U.N. General Assembly.
Russia believes the United Nations should study the possibility of an international law dictating ``a principle of responsibility of states for the failure to take measures against terrorists in their territory or under their jurisdiction,'' he said. He provided no details.
Russia calls the separatist rebels it is fighting in Chechnya ``terrorists,'' and President Vladimir Putin's cooperation with the U.S.-led anti-terror efforts have toned down international criticism of the Kremlin's war there.
Speaking a day after the end of Putin's three-day summit with President Bush, Ivanov said it was ``natural'' that their talks focused on terrorism, but he stressed the ``principle importance'' of a strong U.N. role in leading the campaign against terrorism.
``The U.N. has the necessary universal character, authority, experience and resources to organize a collective rebuke to terrorism on a firm basis of international law,'' he said, suggesting nations must join to fight terror under the U.N. aegis or be sidelined in a U.S.-led campaign.
November 16 2001
WASHINGTON -- Nine weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, federal authorities said Thursday that they have found no evidence indicating that any of the roughly 1,200 people arrested in the United States played a role in the suicide hijacking plot.
The FBI has conducted an exhaustive investigation into whether the 19 suspected hijackers were part of an organized underground of "sleeper" terrorist cells operating within the United States. While investigators continue to look for evidence of such a broad-based conspiracy, so far they have found none, according to several law enforcement officials.
In particular, said one senior law enforcement official, "no links have been established" between the hijackers and the four men believed to be the strongest terrorism suspects: two men from India arrested Sept. 12 on a train in Texas, a former Boston cabdriver arrested outside Chicago and a former flight school student who was arrested in Minnesota in August. Some authorities emphasize the possibility that investigators, whose efforts have been frustrated by uncooperative witnesses, might still uncover evidence linking the jailed suspects to the plots or other terrorist or criminal activities.
But others maintain that if such evidence existed, the exhaustive investigation by more than 4,000 federal agents would have found it. Agents here and abroad have compared the whereabouts of the suspects and the alleged hijackers, scrutinized all of their bank, credit card, Internet and phone records, and even tracked them back to their hometowns in a search for links, authorities say.
The criminal investigation into the attacks, the largest in U.S. history, has netted about 1,200 detainees, and as many as half of them may still be behind bars on immigration violations or unrelated local, state or federal charges. But with these four central men all but eliminated as potential co-conspirators, the Justice Department has failed to build a case against a single prime U.S. suspect in the terrorist attacks, authorities concede.
Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft has emphasized that the key goal of the investigation is the prevention of other attacks. And, authorities say, though they have provided no evidence, the arrests may have thwarted other terrorist plots.
Meantime, investigators still are collecting bits of information on the hijackers and suspects arrested in the U.S. They have discovered, for instance, that the alleged hijacker who piloted the plane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field had been stopped for speeding in Maryland just two days before the hijackings.
But major domestic leads appear to have dried up. As a result, authorities say, they have shifted nearly all of their attention and resources overseas in the continuing hunt for co-conspirators and suspected terrorists.
Nevertheless, investigators remain highly interested in the "mysterious circumstances" surrounding the four central men, the senior law enforcement official said.
4 Central Suspects Undergo Much Scrutiny
The Indian men, Ayub Ali Khan and Mohammed Jaweed Azmath, were apprehended on an Amtrak train while possessing box cutters. Nabil al-Marabh, the onetime cabdriver, was connected to a suspected member of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and had recently received a Michigan permit to haul hazardous waste, setting off a review of hazardous material drivers.
And the computer of Zacarias Moussaoui, the French Algerian man in Minnesota, contained references to crop dusting and chemical dispersal.
"They act suspicious and you don't know why," said one official involved with the investigation. "It sends flags up."
But, the official said, "to date there are no connections. We're still looking, and the matter is still under investigation. You don't know what will happen in the future, but nothing yet."
Authorities now say they have turned their focus to the dozens of suspects who have been detained in Europe since Sept. 11 and to captured or defected Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan.
U.S. investigators remain convinced that Bin Laden and his top aides orchestrated and financed the hijackings. But they have struggled to determine who may have worked directly with the 19 suspected hijackers and who acted as liaisons with Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization in Afghanistan.
"The major investigative activity is coming outside the United States," a government official familiar with the investigation said Thursday. "Most of the main accomplices are located outside the United States."
Worldwide Manhunt Continues for Fugitives
Hundreds of FBI agents have fanned out across Germany, other European countries and the Middle East, working with authorities there in a search for clues, connections and potential suspects.
A number of suspects have been apprehended in Europe, and three fugitives from Hamburg, Germany--including a man who the FBI believes was meant to be the 20th hijacker--are being sought on international arrest warrants.
Another prime suspect is Mustafa Ahmad, who authorities believe is a close Bin Laden associate who may have funneled as much as $500,000 in Al Qaeda money to the hijackers' training and living expenses.
And Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian being held in London on a U.S. extradition warrant, is a pilot who British authorities say trained at least four of the hijackers to fly.
Neil Herman, a former FBI counter-terrorism expert who supervised the investigation into the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and has maintained contacts with bureau investigators, said the overseas investigation could prove crucial in helping authorities determine the broad outlines of the hijacking plot.
It could also help shed light on whether the suspects still being held in the United States played some as-yet-unestablished role, particularly if suspects caught overseas begin to cooperate, Herman said.
"I think the investigation is somewhat at a crossroads, but a positive crossroads," Herman said. Investigators "are developing a great deal of intelligence on these [terrorist] cells, particularly in Europe, and the better intelligence becomes as time goes on in Afghanistan, the more cooperators we'll get.
"A lot of [the U.S. suspects] are not cooperating and talking at all, but that will change in time, as long as [authorities] continue to make significant arrests in Spain, in Germany, in London and elsewhere. It's a matter of time before people begin to cooperate, and from there, the house of cards will fall."
Robert Blitzer, the FBI's former chief of counter-terrorism, was less optimistic in his assessment. He said the U.S.-held suspects have been investigated so thoroughly by now that agents most certainly would have found any terrorist connections.
"It's just not panning out the way they thought," said Blitzer, who has spoken with investigators about the case. "I definitely think it's disappointing. But I have to take it on face value that they've run out all the leads on these guys and have come up cold."
"I'm sure they've investigated these guys back to the day they were born: records checks, interviews with everybody that knew them, going back to old neighborhoods and co-workers."
Blitzer said FBI agents have been sent back to the home countries of detainees to conduct investigations there, particularly of the four central suspects.
"I'm certain it has been intensive," Blitzer said. "On anything related to this case, they're obviously going to pull out all the stops and run down anything to gather information, to see who these guys are."
The FBI's investigation has been hampered by the recent anthrax outbreak, which diverted hundreds of agents from the case, and by the fact that none of the alleged attackers survived.
"The unfortunate thing is that a lot of the people involved in this are dead--19 of them," one government official said.
And investigators' inability to get any of the prime suspects to talk has proved so frustrating that some observers outside the government have suggested the U.S. should consider torture as a means of ensuring cooperation. U.S. authorities say they are not pursuing that option.
All four of the prime suspects are being held as material witnesses. They have not been charged with any crimes in connection with the attacks.
Khan and Azmath, two Indian natives who had been living in New Jersey, were arrested in Fort Worth on Sept. 12. They had boarded an Amtrak train when their cross-country flight from Newark, N.J., to San Antonio was grounded in St. Louis just after the hijackings.
Authorities said they found box cutters, more than $5,000 in cash and hair dye on the two men, who initially drew the suspicion of police when they paid cash for their train tickets.
Authorities' suspicions increased when it appeared that at least one of the men had wired large amounts of cash back to India despite earning relatively meager wages as the manager of a magazine stand at a train depot.
Al-Marabh, a Kuwaiti-born man who had worked in Boston as a cabdriver, was arrested on an unrelated warrant outside Chicago. Authorities said he was associated with Raed Hijazi, a suspected Bin Laden operative who is imprisoned in Jordan in connection with a terrorist plot aimed at killing American tourists there.
Moussaoui, the fourth prime suspect, first aroused suspicion when he reportedly told flight instructors in Minnesota that he only wanted to learn how to fly a plane, not to take off or land. They called authorities and he was detained in August on immigration charges.
Suspicion of Moussaoui intensified after it was learned that French authorities had put him on a watch list of Islamic extremist groups. He was suspected of being the missing 20th hijacker because he had been taken into custody before the plot was carried out. U.S. authorities believe 20 men were meant to participate, in part because three of the planes carried five alleged hijackers while there were only four hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania.
But on Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller said Moussaoui actually told flight school officials just the opposite of what had been reported--that he only wanted to learn to take off and land commercial jets, not fly them. Mueller said the FBI no longer considered Moussaoui to be the 20th hijacker.
Even with Mueller's assertion, authorities say they will continue to investigate Moussaoui and the others still being held in custody.
"We're just hopeful to get at the truth," one official said.
WASHINGTON (Nov. 16) - President George W. Bush's order to permit secret military trials of suspected foreign terrorists drew bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill on Friday as well as calls for public hearings to examine the wisdom of the action.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the panel's ranking Republican, invited Attorney General John Ashcroft to appear before their committee on Nov. 28 to explain this and other recent decisions by the administration in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
''We ... ask that you make yourself available for several hours,'' Leahy and Hatch wrote.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, and Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican, urged House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, to also hold a hearing.
Conyers and Barr charged that military trials would undermine the Constitution by denying defendants basic rights -- such as being able to confront their accusers and having the proceeding open to the public.
''Today we stand on the verge of a civil liberties calamity in this country,'' said Conyers, a liberal who is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
''It is a fundamental concern to all of us on the Judiciary Committee and it ought to be to every American and person in this country,'' added Barr, a staunch conservative.
On Tuesday, Bush declared an ''extraordinary emergency'' that permitted him to order military trials for suspected international terrorists arrested in the United States or abroad.
Bush would decide which defendants would be tried by military tribunals, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would appoint each panel and set the rules.
The president's order followed other recent administration's actions permitting federal authorities to listen in on attorney-client phone calls and ethnic profiling of men from Middle Eastern countries.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, and other members of Congress back the administration's decisions, saying the nation is at war.
PROTECT THE CONSTITUTION
Yet others have said that first and foremost the nation should protect the Constitution and rights of all people in the United States.
Although Hatch has not voiced any public criticism, he joined Leahy in calling for a prompt hearing to examine the administration's decisions.
Leahy, in a statement on Thursday, questioned whether Bush can lawfully authorize military commissions to try persons who have been arrested in the United States.
''There has been no formal declaration of war, and in the meantime, our civilian courts remain open and available to try suspected terrorists,'' Leahy said.
Sensenbrenner on Friday declined to say whether he would hold a hearing on the matter. But in a letter to Ashcroft, he wrote that military trials, along with the new rule permitting federal authorities to listen in on conversations between suspected terrorists and their lawyers had ''raised concerns in the press and in the public.''
Conyers, Barr and other lawmakers said they wanted to drum up public opposition to Bush's action in hopes he backs off.
''We were asked to close ranks to defend this country against terrorism,'' said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat. ''We should also be asked to close ranks to defend this country against the destruction of constitutional privileges.''
In recent days, a number of major newspapers have run editorials for and against the president's order.
The Wall Street Journal, in support of Bush's action, wrote on Friday, ''These are extraordinary -- but in our view necessary -- measures for extraordinary times.''
The Washington Post came out against the president's action in an editorial on Friday under the headline ''End-Running the Bill of Rights.''
Reuters 17:42 11-16-01
He said terrorists have established a presence in the United States but didn't specify where they are.
``There are persons in the United States who have association with, affiliation with, support of certain terrorist groups,'' Mueller said Friday. ``We're doing everything we can to identify exactly the extent of that activity.''
He said Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network isn't the only terror group with a beachhead in America.
``I wouldn't rule out any of the known terrorist organizations,'' Mueller said, referring to the Palestinian Hamas movement and the Saudi Hezbollah group.
In the search for information about terrorist operatives in the United States, authorities have arrested or detained more than 1,100 people. They also want to question more than 5,000 foreign men in the United States who have passports from the Middle East and countries outside the region where terrorists are known to operate.
Civil rights groups have criticized the FBI for casting such a wide net, saying many innocent people could be caught up in the terrorist investigation simply because they are of Arab or Muslim descent. Mueller said the Justice Department has established guidelines for interviewing foreigners who are not considered suspects.
Speaking with reporters, Mueller divulged few other new details about the progress of a massive investigation into the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings and the anthrax cases that have killed four people and sickened dozens.
On the anthrax investigation, Mueller said investigators are still retracing the steps of Kathy Nguyen, the New York woman who died of inhalation anthrax, and are looking at people who knew her and sent mail to her.
It's still not clear how Nguyen, a hospital worker who lived in the Bronx, was exposed.
``The investigators are trying to dissect her life to determine at what point in her day-to-day activities she could have been exposed to anthrax,'' Mueller said. He said authorities have not discovered a letter that could be the source of her infection.
After Mueller's briefing, the FBI said investigators have found a second anthrax-tainted letter addressed to a senator, Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont. The contaminated letter was postmarked from Trenton, N.J., as was the one sent to Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and contains similar handwriting, investigators said.
Four people have died from inhaled anthrax, all thought to have victims of mail tainted with the germ. Until Friday, only one letter carrying the germ inside the envelope had been found in Washington.
In his briefing, Mueller said another hijacker may have been recruited to take the place of a Yemeni man who was supposed to have helped hijack a plane but was prevented from entering the country.
Mueller said Ramsi Binalshibh, the Yemeni, is believed to have been assigned to the hijacking team that commandeered United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in southwestern Pennsylvania after a revolt by passengers.
``Once Binalshibh was prevented from coming into the country, they may well have turned to other person or persons to fill that role,'' said Mueller.
Binalshibh is the subject of an international manhunt.
Mueller said security plans for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City have been strengthened but would not discuss specific measures.
``In some instances where has been enhancements to ensure that the Winter Olympics go off without a glitch,'' said Mueller.