- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 22, 2001

The Justice Department yesterday said it has nearly completed the questioning of more than 5,000 foreign men in connection with the September 11 attacks on America, and that the interviews generated a number of leads that could help in future anti-terrorism investigations.

Those questioned included men 18 to 33 who entered the United States on non-immigrant visas from countries that U.S. intelligence officials have determined have al Qaeda terrorist presence or activity.

Justice officials said the department received progress reports from the 94 U.S. Attorneys' Offices nationwide and terrorism task forces across the country, showing that the project was "proceeding smoothly and appears to be on pace to be substantially completed by today."

Nearly all of the individuals located were described by the department as "extremely cooperative and forthcoming in answering questions." They said most of the individuals expressed support for the country's fight against terrorism and a willingness to help.

Some of those interviewed, they said, volunteered to assist as interpreters or in some other fashion. There were a very small group of individuals who declined to be interviewed and their wishes were respected, they said.

Although, the department has only partial results from the interviews because the completed interviews must be documented in reports that will be subject to further analysis, several leads were generated that appear related to the September 11 investigation.

Also, the officials said, there was information gathered that will be helpful more generally in the country's anti-terrorism efforts.

"The success of this effort is attributable to the federal agents and state and local officers who conducted the interviews with unfailing professionalism," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "In addition to yielding valuable information about terrorist activities, the interviews have been an excellent example of federal, state and local partnership.

"My sincerest thanks go out to all of the interviewees who cooperated voluntarily in this process. These individuals made a choice to be responsible for helping save lives, instead of remaining silent against evil," he said.

Some on the list could not be located, the majority of whom had moved to another part of the country or left the United States entirely.

Under the program, the Justice Department came up with an initial list of 5,146 men. Mr. Ashcroft, in a Nov. 9 memo to federal prosecutors around the country, requested that the interviews be completed within 30 days.

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