Department of Justice Seal

Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Press Conference
October 4, 2002

(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)

    Today is a defining day in America's war against terrorism. We have neutralized a suspected terrorist cell within our borders, convicted an attempted suicide bomber, and an American pledged, trained and captured in violent jihad is sentenced.

    Earlier today, agents of the Portland and Detroit Joint Terrorism Task Forces arrested suspected terrorist cell members charged with engaging in a conspiracy to join al Qaeda and Taliban forces fighting against United States and allied soldiers in Afghanistan. The alleged conspiracy names six defendants, five of whom are United States citizens, including one individual with U.S. military training. Jeffrey Battle, Patrice Lumumba Ford, Muhammad Bilal, Ahmed Bilal, Habis Al Saoub and October Lewis are charged with four counts:

    Four of the accused are currently in custody; two remain at large overseas. If convicted of these crimes, the defendants will face up to life in prison.

    Today's arrests follow the capture in suburban Buffalo, New York, of six individuals charged with aiding terrorism. In addition, other U.S. residents have been indicted for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. With today's arrests, we have charged more than 17 individuals since August 28th.

    The facts alleged in the indictment are these: Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, defendants Battle, Ford, Muhammad Bilal, Ahmed Bilal and Al Saoub acquired various firearms and engaged in weapons training and physical training in preparation to fight a jihad. In October 2001, as United States troops entered into battle against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the indictment charges that Battle, Ford, Muhammad Bilal, Ahmed Bilal and Al Saoub began to travel to Afghanistan to join forces with Taliban and al Qaeda troops battling United States and allied military personnel.

    The indictment charges that the five defendants purchased airline tickets to Hong Kong with the intent of traveling to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan via China and Pakistan. On November 2, 2001, Battle told his ex-wife and alleged co-conspirator, October Lewis, that the group had encountered difficulties crossing the border of China into Afghanistan. The indictment charges that on eight occasions Lewis wired money to Battle overseas with the knowledge that the money would be used to support his attempt to reach Afghanistan to fight with Taliban and al Qaeda forces. The indictment further charges that while in Bangladesh attempting to gain entry into Afghanistan, Battle caused himself to be discharged administratively from the United States Army Reserve, in which he had enlisted in order to receive military training intended for use against the United States. According to the indictment, three of the defendants, Battle, Ford, and Muhammad Bilal, returned to the United States in late 2001 and early 2002. They, and alleged co-conspirator October Lewis, are in the custody of federal authorities at this hour.

    I thank the many local, state and federal law enforcement officers who worked together to bring about these arrests. Today's case is textbook example of the central role that cooperation among local, state and federal law enforcement plays in the prevention of terrorist attacks. In December, 2001, Portland authorities were contacted by a Skamania County, Washington, Sheriff Charles Bryan from Washington state who recognized one of the defendants from news reports of an Oregon criminal case with possible terrorist links. One of Sheriff Bryan's deputies, Mark Mercer, had come upon the defendant among a group of people shooting weapons while trespassing on private land. The information provided by Sheriff Bryan and his Deputy Sheriff Mercer helped lead Oregon authorities to the individuals arrested today.

    In addition to these arrests, two self-confessed enemy soldiers in the war on terrorism meet justice in United States courts today. In Boston, Richard Colvin Reid pled guilty to all counts in the indictment for attempting to ignite a bomb on American Airlines Flight 63 and murder 197 passengers and crew. This morning, Richard Reid confessed in open court that he is a member of al Qaeda, pledged to Osama bin Laden and an enemy of the United States. In addition, John Walker Lindh is scheduled to be sentenced this afternoon in federal court in Virginia.

    Today is a day of victory for justice and the citizens who are vigilant in the pursuit of justice. Though he was captured on the other side of the world, allied with terrorists who loath our freedom and mock our justice, John Walker Lindh was brought to America to answer for his actions. And it was the heroic efforts of the citizens aboard American Airlines Flight 63 that stopped Richard Reid in the midst of his attempt to kill hundreds. Thanks to the outstanding work of our prosecutors, in less than a year, both cases have reached resolution - both criminals have been brought to justice here in the United States.

    I thank Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, who have led the Justice Department in securing justice in these cases. I thank United States Attorney Mike Mosman for his leadership and I am grateful to Portland FBI Special Agent in Charge, Charlie Matthews and all the agents of the Bureau.

    Today is a day of justice for the citizens, soldiers and law enforcement officers who defend our nation and our values each and every day. It is a day of both victory and resolve, of well-deserved thanks for a job well done and rededication to the job that lies ahead.

    And today is a day of vindication for the nation and President Bush. Over one year ago, we pledged to expend every effort and devote every available resource to intercept terrorists and defend our nation. And in the words of President Bush, "We will not relent until justice is done and our nation is secure. What our enemies have begun, we will finish."