Transcript from Press Briefing
Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller
September 28, 2001
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Sorry to keep you waiting. The investigation continues to make progress. As of today, the FBI website has received 97,996 tips. The FBI in-coming, toll-free hotline has received 17,532 tips. There have been a total of over 480 people arrested or detained.
I wanted to take this opportunity to provide some details and context to reports of a letter that was found belonging to three of the hijackers. Copies of this letter in its original language will be provided. A four-page, hand-written letter was found in the suitcase of Mohamed Atta, one of the hijackers on American Airlines Flight 11. You may recall there was a suitcase that did not make it to the plane and was recovered by the FBI in Boston. A second copy of the letter was also found at Dulles Airport in a vehicle that was used by Nawaf Alhazmi, one of the hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77.
Additionally, a third copy of the letter was found at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. These three documents, this letter, is clear evidence linking the hijackers on the three separate flights on September 11th.
The letter is written in Arabic and contains instructions to the hijackers, as well as Islamic prayers. It is a disturbing and shocking view into the mindset of these terrorists. The letter provides instructions to the terrorists to be carried out both prior and during their terrorist attacks.
Let me make clear that while this letter contains a number of religious references, I do not believe it to be representative of Muslims or the Islamic faith.
The letter is a stark reminder of how these hijackers grossly perverted the Islamic faith to justify their terrorist acts.
I want to express my appreciation for the efforts of American Muslim leaders to educate the public about their faith, and to stress that the Muslim faith is peaceful and in no way condones these acts of violence. And I remind all Americans that law-abiding Muslim Americans are patriotic citizens who deserve dignity and respect.
You'll be getting copies of the letter that will be made available to you, letters that were found in the three separate locations relating to the three separate flights.
If you have questions.
Q Attorney General, a representative of the European Union told us yesterday that its members will not extradite suspects to the United States unless the United States guarantees that they won't face the prospect of execution. Is this your understanding?
And if it is, then how do you deal with that?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: We have not sought extradition of any individuals in regard to this particular attack on the United States to date. And obviously, I believe that the law, which is clear in relation to capital punishment in the United States when certain factual conditions are met, is a law that we ought to be able to enforce.
Q Mr. Attorney General, you and the director have been very clear about how you're not targeting any person because of his or her ethnicity or religion, but there are a lot of people who have been interviewed by the FBI agents who are saying they are being queried as to their political beliefs and as to their feelings about the attacks. How is that justified?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, Bob may want to make some comments, but let me first say this was an attack on the United States for people who would have a clear motive, if in fact that is the -- it was a clear motive, I think, on the individuals who made this attack on the United States that their feelings about the United States are related. And when we're trying to talk to individuals who may or may not have been associated or who may have information regarding this, the way in which they -- the way they feel about the United States may be related.
MR. MUELLER: The -- in our questioning, we are delving into any relationships that the individuals may have had with any of the hijackers or indeed associates of the hijackers. Inevitably, that may cross over into relationships that may have sprung out of attendance at, for instance, religious meetings.
But there is no effort to delve into either the political or the religious beliefs of individuals or -- in no way tied to questioning related to whether or not they were associated in any way with one or more of the hijackers, or helped or assisted in any way one or more of the hijackers.
Q How close are you to indicting someone who's directly involved in this, in the attack? And can the FBI identify anyone other than bin Laden who may be a mastermind of this plot?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: When we are prepared to talk about indictments, we will. And we are continuing with the investigation. We're making progress in investigation but aren't ready to make announcements in that respect.
Q Mr. Mueller spoke yesterday briefly about focusing on prevention. Might we get some sense of what have been -- the most successful measures on prevention have been since September 11th?
And there are some reports out there that there were a couple of incidents -- (off mike) -- since that time. Is that true?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, let me just say this:
We are focused on prevention. We think the prevention of additional acts of violence against the United States by those whose agenda is to impair our ability to exist as a free nation -- that that agenda must be disrupted and interrupted, and to take steps to do that, there have been a wide range of things done, including very substantial additional security in a variety of settings. You all are aware of them -- everything from the grounding of crop dusters and then developing new ways of dealing with those tools of agriculture which could be, perhaps, perverted to other nefarious ends, to the different standards around airports and for -- and to an alert -- a heightened state of alert for a variety of other infrastructural assets of the country.
And we hope that our effort to curtail any additional successful acts of terror will indeed be fruitful. And I think we just – we've asked the citizens of the country to participate in that. I talked yesterday, asking for their assistance in what I termed as, in effect, a national neighborhood watch.
Everyone can be a part of making sure that we avoid additional acts that are so costly.
Q Thank you. There was an arrest today in London of a man, last name Raissi. And British prosecutors said in open court that he provides a direct link to the hijackers. Can you tell us how important -- can you confirm that and tell us how important -- either of you -- this is to the case, and why?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I am not familiar with exactly what the British prosecutors said, so I'm not in a position to confirm it, and I'm not in a position to comment on Mr. Raissi. I don't know whether -- Bob, do you want to -- Bob says he's going to give you the same answer.
Now, I cut somebody off in order not to answer your question.
Q Do you think bin Laden was the only mastermind behind the attack, sir?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: We believe -- let me just put it this way. We have not ruled out the participation of other individuals and other organizations in this attack.
Bob, did you want to add to that?
MR. MUELLER: The only thing I would say is that I think our -- the focus of the questions in the past and the answers we've given is that there's not just bin Laden but there's an al Qaeda network that has been much written-about and much talked about. And I think it is -- one should not focus on one individual, but focus one attention on a series of networks across the world, which is, frankly, the focus of, generally, our counterterrorism efforts, but also, in the course of this investigation, we quite obviously want to identify the ties not to just one individual, but any individual which may, or who may, share responsibility for what happened on September 11th.
Q What is the investigative value of --
Q Have we been able to trace any of the 19 hijackers back to Afghanistan?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I don't think I'm capable of answering that question. I'm trying to inventory -- we know where they've been in a lot of times and places, but I'm not --
Mr. Director, if you may have --
MR. MUELLER: Well, I just -- it's something that we can't get into. It's part of the investigation. And part of our investigation, quite obviously, is trying to determine the past histories of each of the hijackers. Trace their time in the United States, but also attempt to identify where they were prior to their coming to the United States and track their movements through any number of countries overseas. And we are in the process of doing it. And we've had, I will say, substantial cooperation from a number of countries that have enabled us to start to put together the picture. But the picture is nowheres near fully painted.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you all very much.