Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Success and Strategies in the Effort to Liberate Iraq
April 17, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)
Good afternoon. As President Bush said, "These are good days in the history of freedom." The victories in Iraq have been achieved with a most impressive and humane military campaign, thanks to the leadership of President Bush, our coalition partners, General Tommy Franks, his staff and our brave men and women in uniform.
For decades, a fortunate few Iraqis have escaped the reign of Saddam Hussein's tyranny and fear to find freedom in the United States. These Iraqis, who tasted liberty here, have longed for the liberation of their native land. During the past few weeks, Iraqis in the U.S. have become our unheralded partners in Operation Iraqi Freedom. America is honored by their sacrifices and the risks they have endured to help liberate Iraq.
Today, America celebrates with the Iraqi people as they experience their first breaths of freedom, and who, for the first time in a generation, can look forward to a future free of fear and tyranny.
We know that danger still exists and that there is still much work to be done. Many challenges lay ahead, both overseas and at home.
The Justice Department's Iraq-related terrorism prevention efforts included planning for the possibility of intensified domestic threats during conflict with Iraq. Last spring, as a contingency plan, the FBI developed the action plan to address any related threats that we might face during any possible elevation of military operation.
History taught us from Operation Desert Storm that Iraq had a plan to use intelligence officers to infiltrate the U.S. in 1991 to carry out terror. The Iraqi Intelligence Service played a role in terrorist operations, including the attempted assassination of President George H. W. Bush, and other attempts around the world. These Iraqi intelligence officials endangered both our nation and the Iraqis who had fled Iraq to start a new life here, free of Saddam Hussein's oppression and terror.
As this conflict escalated, we heard Usama bin Laden speak in a videotape released on February 11, saying, and I quote, "We stress the importance of the martyrdom operations against the enemy - operations that inflicted harm on the United States and Israel that have been unprecedented in their history, thanks to Almighty God." Bin Laden also said, "Regardless of the removal or the survival of the socialist party or Saddam, Muslims in general and the Iraqis in particular must brace themselves for jihad against this unjust campaign and acquire ammunition and weapons."
An FBI-focused Justice Department Iraqi Task Force plan was put in place, in addition to the integrated prevention security framework established after the September 11th attacks. The Iraqi Task Force Plan consisted of a three-prong strategy to: gather intelligence from Iraqi people, eliminate the Iraqi Intelligence Service's presence in the United States, and to disrupt potential attacks by other terrorists.
First, to identify threats to America and to assist our forces overseas, the FBI gathered intelligence on Iraq in the U.S. and abroad:
- The Iraqi Task Force conducted nearly 10,000 voluntary interviews with U.S.-based Iraqis to obtain counter-terrorism information and intelligence data, as well as to identify backlash threats to Iraqis in the United States.
Director Mueller will provide greater detail on the interview process, but I would add that the cooperation of the Iraqi-American people was essential to our efforts to secure and safeguard our nation at this critical time. The Department of Justice greatly appreciates the assistance and cooperation of the Iraqi community here in the United States.
Efforts to reach out to this community are part of an overall strategy the Department has in place to work with the broader Arab and Muslim communities across the country to ensure their rights are respected and protected.
The FBI took care to ask those they interviewed if they were aware of any backlash discrimination or hate crimes - and the Civil Rights Division here in the Justice Department has opened 36 new cases into incidents as a result. Other activities we have taken include:
- The Civil Rights Division established a post-September 11th Backlash Discrimination Initiative within the Civil Rights Division's National Origin Working Group;
- Approximately 400 incidents of backlash discrimination have been investigated since September 2001 by the Civil Rights Division, FBI, and United States' Attorneys' offices;
- The Justice Department has contributed to approximately 100 backlash prosecutions in federal, state and local courts; and,
- The Justice Department's Community Relations Service held more than 250 town and community meetings and forums on backlash issues, and developed best practices for law enforcement to prevent and respond to hate incidents against Arab-Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs.
Second, the Justice Department moved aggressively to expel or arrest all known Iraqi Intelligence officials within the U.S. including:
- 5 Iraqi officials with diplomatic status were declared persona non grata and expelled from the country;
- 1 individual was arrested and charged with acting as an agent of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. On April 14th, Raed Rokan Al-Anbuke, the son of a former Iraqi diplomat, was charged with working in New York as an agent of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the foreign intelligence arm of the Iraq government. The complaint alleges that Al-Anbuke worked under the direction of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
- The Justice Department has taken action now against all known officials of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
Third, the Justice Department aggressively countered potential counter-terrorism threats during the Iraqi conflict: Using all of the tools at our disposal, including provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, we have brought charges against 21 individuals as a result of our stepped-up efforts in the time period before and during the conflict with Iraq. Some of these include:
- On March 26, Haroon Rashid, Irfam Kamran, Sajjad Nasser, Chris Marie Warren, Abdul Qayyum, and Saima Saima were charged in the District of Colorado with making various false statements in order to obtain a visa permitting Imran Khan, Qayyum's nephew, to immigrate to the United States and otherwise cover up his illegal presence in the United States. Evidence proffered at the detention hearing included that Kamran and Nasser allegedly said to a cooperating source that they supported the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, jihad and were awaiting a signal that would cause them to harm U.S. interests. Evidence also included that Nasser admitted attending a terrorist training camp on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border in August 2001. Rashid allegedly attended a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and went to Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, where he fought for the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
- On March 26, Maitham al Samar and his brother Qassim Abdulla Jaber al Samer were indicted for allegedly operating an unlicensed money transmitting business by transmitting millions of dollars to Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan.
- On March 25, Mazin al Saeed was detained in connection with charges that he allegedly operated an unlicensed money transmitting business. Al Saeed, an Iraqi native who recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen, allegedly collected money from various Iraqis in Northern Indiana for transmittal to Maitham al Samar in Denver, who then allegedly sent the money to the Middle East.
- On February 26th, four individuals were indicted for engaging in illegal financial transfers to persons in Iraq through an organization called "Help the Needy." According to the indictment, from approximately 1994 through the present, the defendants allegedly conspired to violate the law by soliciting contributions from people in the U.S., depositing the funds in accounts in New York, and then laundering over $2.7 million to sources in Iraq through accounts maintained in the Jordan Islamic Bank in Amman. On April 9, a superseding 20-count indictment was filed adding tax charges in this case; and,
- February 26th, University of Idaho graduate student Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, was indicted on charges of fraudulently obtaining student visas and making false statements on visa applications. According to the 11-count indictment, Al-Hussayen received and renewed student visas to pursue computer studies at the University of Idaho, certifying that his requested U.S. entry and presence was solely for graduate studies. The indictment alleges that from October 1998 through the present, Al-Hussayen routed thousands of dollars he received from overseas sources to the Michigan-based Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA), and provided computer expertise and website services to IANA.
The indictment alleges some websites promoted terrorism through suicide bombings and using airplanes as weapons. According to evidence proffered at the bond hearing, Al-Hussayen also posted statements and proclamations of two radical sheiks, who had ties to Usama bin Laden and advocated violence and terrorist activities against the United States, on these websites.
Also, during this time, the Justice Department took guilty pleas from four individuals who are providing cooperation to the United States as part of their plea agreements.
- Earnest James Ujaama in Seattle pleaded guilty to providing goods and services to the Taliban;
- Two additional defendants in the Buffalo cell case pleaded guilty for providing material support to Al Qaeda; and
- Youssef Hmimssa pleaded guilty to multiple criminal charges, and is currently cooperating in the Detroit cell case.
Such cooperation is a critical tool for our war on terrorism.
The Justice Department's efforts leading up to, and during, the Iraqi conflict should send a clear message to the American people and others, that we will not tolerate those who would do our nation harm.
It is a credit to our new investigative tools - carefully targeted and utilized - as well as the hard work of the law enforcement community, our intelligence agencies and a cooperative public, that we have not suffered another major terrorist attack in this country since September 11th.
But we know that a significant terrorist threat persists and we all must remain ever vigilant.