Attorney General Ashcroft Transcript
News Conference with FBI Director Mueller Regarding Terrorist Tapes Thursday, January 17, 2002 DOJ Conference Center
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you for coming this afternoon.
Since September 11th, it has been the effort of this administration to have an integrated effort of combining resources, not only military, not only intelligence, not only investigational, but resources with foreign governments and resources involving the citizens of this great country and citizens around the world to be able to make progress to curtail the threat of terrorism not only to America, but to other nations.
It is an integrated effort. It's an effort that involves civil authorities, military authorities, intelligence resources, law enforcement, cooperation of foreign governments. And it is an effort to be seamless so that we don't have opportunities to miss those things which need to be discovered, and that a resource or an opportunity developed in one part of the operation is capitalized on in another part of the operation. Analysis is as important as law enforcement, is as important as information gathering, and, obviously, these things work hand in glove with those who fight on the actual battle lines in the field.
In one respect, the best friend of freedom is information because information allows freedom-loving people to become the best line of self-defense. And it is in that respect that the coordination and cooperation that exists in our country while at war is very important in helping us do what we can to curtail the risk of additional terrorist activity that would injure Americans or other freedom-loving citizens around the world.
I am grateful that the president has sought to lead us with this kind of integrated effort. And today we are capitalizing on that kind of integrated effort and calling upon the public, both in the United States of America and worldwide, to assist in the effort to identify, locate and incapacitate terrorists or those who are suspected of planning additional attacks against innocent civilians.
Recently, five videotapes were recovered from the rubble of Mohammed Atef's house in Afghanistan.
Now, we suspect Atef directed terrorist operations for al Qaeda as one of Osama bin Laden's chief primary operational lieutenants. Atef was indicted for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and these videotapes from his house we believe could be of great value. They depict, the videotapes depict young men delivering what appear to be martyrdom messages from suicide terrorists. Analysis of the audio portion of these tapes conducted thus far suggests based on statements made on the tapes that the men may be trained and prepared to commit future suicide terrorist acts. Our investigation so far has tentatively identified four of the five individuals depicted in the still shots that are posted in the pictures on the right. The four identified men are believed to be Ramzi Binalshibh, Abd Al-Rahim, Muhammad Sa'id Ali Hasan, and Khalid Ibn Muhammad Al-Juhani. No identification has been made of the fifth individual, and that individual is depicted on the poster as an unknown individual.
Now, forensic analysis of the tapes continues in order to help us derive additional information. But because the statements on the tapes suggest future terrorist acts, specifically suicide attacks, we are asking for the public's assistance in further identifying and locating the individuals on the tapes so that additional investigation can be made.
Now, Ramsi Binalshibh is a name that you've heard before. Binalshibh, a Yemeni, was an associate of the September 11th suicide hijacker Mohamed Atta. In the indictment handed down in December against Zacarias Moussaoui, who is currently awaiting trial for conspiring with Osama bin Laden in the September 11th attacks, Binalshibh was named along with Atta and the 18 other hijackers as an unindicted co-conspirator.
The indictment describes Binalshibh as a member of the Hamburg, Germany al Qaeda cell, the member who made several unsuccessful attempts to obtain a visa to enter the United States prior to the September 11th attacks. After Binalshibh was refused entry into the United States, refused a visa, he is alleged to have acted as a financier and facilitator of terrorism, transferring funds to Moussaoui and other terrorists from his position in Germany. Binalshibh is currently a fugitive, and I believe he has been named by the German government on a warrant seeking his arrest there.
And I want to thank German Minister of the Interior, Otto Schily, for his help investigating and pursuing Binalshibh and other suspected terrorists who operated in Germany. We will share these tapes with Minister Schily and other German authorities because of their interest in him expressed in their warrant for his arrest.
Little is known to law enforcement at this point about the other individuals featured on the videotapes. Investigators are extremely interested in identifying and locating these individuals as soon as possible. Photographs and descriptive data have been disseminated to law enforcement and intelligence agencies worldwide. Investigators note that these men could be anywhere in the world.
We have declassified excerpts of these videotapes, and today we are releasing the excerpts of these tapes worldwide. From what we can ascertain about the tapes at this time, they do not reveal any information about specific planned acts or targets or time frames for any potential planned or other terrorist acts.
The tapes we are releasing today are another example of the potentially critical role that the public can play. We certainly know that the public has played a very important role to date, but this is another opportunity for the public around the world to join the campaign against terrorism. Throughout the war on terrorism, our military and intelligence officials have made a concerted effort to share appropriate information with the public in order to enlist their assistance. We've asked citizens to be vigilant, to be alert to any possible threat.
The success of this strategy was made clear by yesterday's indictment of Richard Reid, who may very well have succeeded in destroying American Airlines Flight Number 63, as the indictment charges, had it not been for the courage and attentiveness of the citizen passengers and crew.
Once again today we put our trust in the public to exercise vigilance and common sense in the face of the terrorist threat. Anyone who believes that he or she knows the identity or the whereabouts of any of these men is encouraged, is urged to contact the nearest FBI office or the FBI's website, www.ifccfbi.gov -- that's www.ifcc. -- pardon me -- www.ifccfbi.gov -- or to contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in a foreign setting if they don't have an opportunity to contact the FBI.
The FBI has prepared a compilation of excerpts from the videotapes, and on these videotapes you will see Muhammad Sa'id Ali Hasan, Abd Al-Rahim, Khalid Ibn Muhammad Al-Juhani. And these tapes will run for about a minute and a half, and they are the product of the items that were confiscated and made available to authorities as a result of activities of our troops in the theater of conflict.
Please roll the tapes now.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: This is Abd Al-Rahim.
(Video tape shown.)
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: This is Khalid Ibn Muhammad Al-Juhani.
(Video tape shown.)
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: The poster which we have here identifies, or at least shows, five al Qaeda members, including the three that you've just seen on the videotape. Obviously, in addition, it includes Ramzi Binalshibh and the unknown individual, the three on the videotape who were in sequence. I think the first one we saw on the videotape was in the center of the top row. Second one on the videotape was Al-Rahim, who's on the far side of the poster. And the last being Khalid Ibn Muhammad Al-Juhani here on this side of the top row.
Director Mueller will have a few comments, and then he and I will be happy to take your questions.
DIR. MUELLER: Thank you, General. Thank you, General, and good afternoon everyone.
The photographs and video you just saw are from a trove of valuable information being recovered in Afghanistan. That we are displaying them here at the Justice Department reflects the seamless effort against terrorism that extends from the troops on the ground to the FBI and the CIA analysts here who are charged with putting these pieces together.
This is a unique situation. Overseas, the military action continues, but it continues in ways that directly support what we are doing here, what we and the CIA are fully engaged in, which is the identification of the terrorists and in preventing future attacks. We are working side by side and we are working together with shared intelligence and a complete exchange of information.
We in the FBI are grateful to those who are risking their lives to bring us this valuable information, and we are grateful to a public, in this case a global public, willing to remain alert and to help in the fight against terrorism. Every piece of information is potentially valuable. We hope that no one hesitates to surface anything that could be of interest to us.
The principle is simple: An informed and alert public works, and that is why today we are showing you both the videotapes on the one hand and the photographs of the individuals we're looking for on the other.
Q Director Mueller, I'm curious if you have any sense of when the tapes were made; whether they were made after 9/11, and if you can characterize what the three men say in these videotapes?
MR. MUELLER: Yeah, we are still doing the forensic analysis of the tapes and the translations of the tape. And I would not want to speculate until that's continued, as to the date that they were -- or the date that the tapes were made.
Q And a follow-up. Do you have any evidence at this point whether any of these five men have ever entered the United States?
MR. MUELLER: We do not. We know that -- we are looking at all of the indices, and as soon as they were identified, we began looking for each of these individuals. As the attorney general has pointed out, Binalshibh tried to enter the country three times over the last year, and is believed to have been part of the group of hijackers who were responsible for the attack on September 19th (sic) but could not make it into the country.
Q General Ashcroft, are there rewards connected to the photos and identifying or information leading to the apprehension --
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: At this time, we have not -- we have not developed the reward system. We are inviting people to assist us in this respect and hope that they'll come forward.
Q General, could it be that any of these men were killed in the bombing? And also, are there warrants out on the others besides Binalshibh?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: It could well be. We don't know of the whereabouts of these individuals, and we're not able to say that they're in one location or another or whether they're dead or alive. We do believe that the German authorities have a warrant out for Binalshibh. I don't know of warrants out for the other individuals at this time.
And obviously, with the one individual, we don't even have a clear identity at this time, but hope to have it.
Q You've repeatedly said you don't know the whereabouts of these suspects. Do you think it unnecessarily scares the public into possibly believing one of these people could be in their neighborhood, or any Middle Eastern or Arab-descent person could be possibly accused? I mean, is it --
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: One of the valuable things about being able to present a photograph and then to be able to substantiate the photograph with the video footage is that it takes this out of the category of generalized identification and gets us to the category of specific identification. And if we were just to say there were five potential suicide martyrs that had gone out, and to describe them -- even just to say their names or to try and give characteristics I think might have some of the difficulties which you've mentioned. But I think the American people are accustomed to being a part of this investigation and this effort and they realize that they can be a constructive part. And we've provided this basis for specific identification.
And I make one other point before -- I think you're going to be next, because you were the one shouting first, so -- not shouting, but whatever -- and that is that, frankly, the still photographs are not always as clear as seeing an individual on footage. And so often we're accustomed to "Wanted" posters that give you a static view of individuals. This happens to be a superior sort of basis for people to make identification. And we're just asking that if people think they know of the whereabouts of these individuals, that they would call the local FBI agent, the local FBI office, contact the FBI at the website, or, overseas, go to the American consulate or to the embassy.
Q Now that you're examining the contents of these videotapes, contents of the computers that were recovered in Kabul -- I believe there were some arrests today in London of a number of people -- do you feel like you're getting to a point of reaching any sort of critical mass in learning about al Qaeda? Can you elaborate on where you are at this point in trying to determine how al Qaeda's been operating and its attempts on future -- (off mike)?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: We do believe that progress is being made. And we think the integration of this effort with the sensitivity of our armed forces and people overseas, the cooperation of our members of the coalition, the integrated network of providing information that shares information rather than compartmentalizes information, all of these are very helpful, but we have a long way to go.
And we are sharing information and declassifying information when appropriate, so that we can enlist the entire world of freedom-loving people in that respect. We're further down the road than we have been before, but this is no time for us to take our foot off the accelerator. We need to keep pursuing with a great deal of intensity here.
Q One follow-up. Do you believe that there were -- that attacks were imminent? And is that why you're releasing these --
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: We believe that these could be -- and likely appear to be -- sort of martyrdom messages from suicide terrorists. And whether or not the attack would be imminent or not is something we can't determine. But we know that the right time to release these is in advance of any attack, if there is to be an attack, not subsequent to an attack, and to try and enlist the people of the -- of this great nation and the people around the world to help curtail the attack.
Q Yes. How long is the full portion of the videotape? And also, when do you plan to release the sound on it?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: You know, I don't know how long the full portion is, and I wouldn't indicate to you that we will release the sound on it. It may be that we will, and it may be we won't. We will pursue and make a judgment on that based in the national interest and the interest of this investigation. And so we need to complete the analysis of the tape and to complete all the specific and detailed translation of the tape.
I know that the portions we released today we felt were safe for release, and we didn't believe they contained any surreptitious messages or coded signals that would be designed to alert parts of the terrorist network.
STAFF: Last question.
Q Are there other potential martyrs on those five videotapes, other than these five people here?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I don't believe there are, sir.
Thank you all very much.