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|Posted: Tue Feb 21, 2006 9:15 pm Post subject: Transcript of Press Conference With Alberto Gonzales
|Transcript of Press Conference With Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Ohio Terrorism Indictments
2/21/2006 5:46:00 PM
To: National Desk
Contact: Justice Department, 202-514-2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The following is a transcript of a press conference with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the Ohio terrorism indictments:
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Good afternoon. I'm joined by FBI Deputy Director John Pistole, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, Greg White, and Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher of the Criminal Division.
The Justice Department is charging Mohammad Zaki Amawi, Marwan Othman El-Hindi, and Wassim Mazloum with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts against persons or individuals overseas and with providing material support to terrorists. Their efforts to engage in this type of violent jihad or holy war occurred in Toledo, Ohio over the last year. Amawi is also charged with two counts of making verbal threats against the President.
Let me be clear about why criminal charges such as these are important in our fight against terrorism. We cannot wait until an attack happens. We will continue to use our criminal laws as Congress intended, to charge individuals once they conspire to provide support to terrorism or conspire to kill abroad.
As alleged in the indictment, these defendants have been living in the United States where they have been engaging in weapons training and seeking to provide help in order to kill people abroad, including our troops.
Further, as alleged, all three defendants discussed training, making or manufacturing or using Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs. Amawi engaged in an instructional session on the construction and use of IEDs and timing devices. Amawi stated that his aim was to target U.S. military assets. As we know, one of the greatest dangers to our men and women fighting overseas in Iraq is the IED.
Let me give you a snapshot of their efforts to wage violent jihad against the United States:
The three defendants educated themselves on how to make and use explosives and suicide bomb vests. The materials included both plastic explosives and nitroglycerine.
The three carried out their own jihad military exercises, which included the use of firearms and the shooting of weapons; one sought mortar training.
The three defendants also conspired to provide material support, including money, training, communications equipment, computers or personnel, including themselves, to co-conspirators in the Middle East.
The three also planned to use a business to justify travel to Iraq and conspired to establish a dummy nonprofit tax education organization to raise funds for the jihad.
Amawi also downloaded a video from a mujahideen website which included step-by-step instruction on how to use a suicide bomb vest and passed this information on to another individual. Amawi also made verbal threats to kill or inflict bodily harm against the President of the United States.
If convicted of the most serious charges of conspiring to kill or maim people outside of the United States, the defendants could receive sentences of up to life in prison. I should point out that this is an indictment, and that the defendants have not yet been convicted of a crime.
Individuals who aid terrorists from within our borders threaten the safety of all Americans. And this case stands as a reminder of the need for continued vigilance in the war on terrorism. We are committed to protecting Americans, here and overseas, particularly the brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who are serving our country and striving valiantly to preserve democracy and the rule of law in Iraq.
President Bush summarized our situation well during his recent remarks to the National Guard when he stated, "We are safer... but we're not yet safe. America remains at risk -- so we must remain vigilant. We will stay on the offenses, we will hunt down the terrorists, and we will never rest until this threat to the American people is removed."
I want to conclude by thanking the FBI and the Toledo Joint Terrorism Task Force for their hard work on this case.
John Pistole, Deputy Director of the FBI, will now make a few remarks, and then we'll be happy to take questions when he finishes speaking. John?
MR. PISTOLE: Thank you, General. Good afternoon. The Department of Justice and the FBI remain committed to protecting Americans and keeping America safe.
Through extraordinary cooperation, enhanced intelligence capabilities, and improved information sharing, we have achieved considerable victories against national security and criminal threats facing the United States. Counterterrorism investigations are not simple. They are very calculated and often complex investigations. It is through the hard work, dedication and ingenuity of federal, state and local law enforcement that we have been able to detect the enemy amongst us and thwart terrorist plots.
These individuals are often hiding in plain sight in cities like Lackawana, Lodi, Torrance, and now Toledo. I'm reminded of an inscription on the wall of a courtyard at our FBI headquarters across the street, which is attributed to a former director and which I'll paraphrase. It says in essence, the most effective tool against crime is the cooperation of the American people. I would suggest an updated version of that in our post-9/11 environment would be, the most effective tool in combatting terrorism is cooperation of freedom-loving people worldwide.
We will continue to be vigilant and work hard to identify and disrupt terrorist operatives here in the United States and to help dismantle terrorist networks worldwide.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Any questions?
QUESTION: How far had this group gotten in terms of enacting their conspiracy? Had they actually gotten any explosive devices? How far were they along in their training?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Again, Peter, I can't go beyond what's in the indictment. But clearly the folks had the motivation, and I think that they demonstrated that they had the means, and so I think that because of the good work of the law enforcement community, I think America is safer today. We think we have a very strong case here, but, obviously, again, this is - - we're at the indictment stage, and these folks are presumed innocent until proven guilty. But we feel like we have a strong case here.
QUESTION: General, was the information that led to the arrests gained by the warrantless surveillance program?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I somehow anticipated that question might be coming. We feel very, very strong about -- about this case. Otherwise, obviously, we would not have brought forth the indictment. And as I have said in previous discussions about the terrorist surveillance program, we are very, very much concerned about ensuring that we've done everything we can do to not jeopardize any prosecution, to not jeopardize any investigation, and I'll just leave it at that.
So, again, we feel very, very good about this case and being able to move forward to a successful prosecution.
QUESTION: Can you tell me whether these arrests have any ties to Kindhearts, the organization in Toledo that's being investigated by the Treasury Department for ties to Hamas?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: What I can say is that they are separate investigations. They also happen to be coordinated investigations. And so there's nothing in the indictment with respect to Kindhearts, and so that's all that I can say about the relationship. Again, they're separate investigations, but they're coordinated.
QUESTION: General, can you tell us which Iraqi insurgent group or groups these guys were linking up with or trying to?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Again, the indictment doesn't allege the specific ties to groups that these individuals might have had, and so I'm not going to go beyond anything that's not set forth in the indictment.
QUESTION: Attorney General, as a follow-up to the question on the use of court-authorized wiretaps or non-court-authorized wiretaps, did this investigation start domestically? You had alluded to enemies hiding in our midst. That seems to suggest that it was somebody who has --
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Do you want to answer?
MR. WHITE: My name is Greg White. I'm the U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Ohio, and I would say that information came to the Bureau and to the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Toledo from the community prior to this investigation being started.
QUESTION: Would that be the trainer listed in the indictment?
MR. WHITE: The trainer would be one source of that information, but not the only source.
QUESTION: Doesn't that suggest that you had all the tools that you needed under the existing criminal laws to investigate this and bring it to indictment stage?
MR. WHITE: I think the Attorney General addressed that issue, but the allegations in this indictment are based upon traditional law enforcement kinds of efforts.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Yes sir?
QUESTION: What was the genesis of this alleged plot? Did these guys dream this up on their own, or do you believe they were recruited?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, again, I can't go into -- I'm not going to speculate as to facts that are outside the indictment.
QUESTION: The indictment refers to recruits from outside of Toledo. Can you give us some sense of the scale of the operation, how many people were recruited?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I can't -- I'm sorry, but I can't do that. I'm not going to go -- again, into facts that are outside the indictment.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense for why these people would be directing jihad in Iraq and not conducting a domestic attack?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Again, that would be again speculating on facts that are not included in the indictment. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: General, was Amawi arrested in Jordan and brought back here?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Again, I'm not going to talk about facts that are not set forth in the indictment.
QUESTION: You can't say where he was arrested?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I'm not -- unless it's set forth in the indictment relating to specific facts about this investigation, I can't talk about it.
QUESTION: Can you tell me what part of Toledo they were residing in?
MR. WHITE: Well, it's the general Toledo area. They were in different parts of town. So the addresses I think are available to you.
QUESTION: There's been a lot of criticism from both members of Congress today about the recent purchase or proposed purchase of Dubai Ports World, the UAE company, buying six -- interest in six U.S. major seaports. You're a member of the Committee on Foreign Investing in the United States. And could you describe for us the vetting process that occurred when this was being considered? And also can you ensure national security protections at these ports?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: That is our job in terms of vetting these kinds of acquisitions by foreign companies, is to evaluate the national security risk to the United States. There is a committee, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, CFIUS. We have a very detailed process which involves numerous agencies. I think many of those agencies have been disclosed in the news in terms of who is involved in providing input as to what are the national security implications of a proposed acquisition by a foreign company.
One thing that I want to emphasize, this is not a question about port security. This is not a question about port ownership. This is a question about port operation. Port security still is in the hands of state and local officials and federal officials like the Coast Guard. And so, this is only about port operations, not about port security, not about port ownership, but simply about port operations. Obviously, as part of this process, we're very concerned about ensuring maintaining port security. That is one of the things that -- that is the mission, the charge of all the agencies involved in evaluating whether or not we should recommend going forward with the proposed transaction. And in this particular case, again, I can't go much -- much more into the details about discussions here because this is a classified process. But the number one objective in evaluating these kinds of transactions is what is the impact upon national security in this country.
A PARTICIPANT: One more question.
QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, at the Supreme Court today, the Solicitor General argued that even storm drains are U.S. waters protected by law. Justice Scalia called that absurd, and I was wondering what your response to that was?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I have great respect for Justice Scalia. I also have great respect for the Solicitor General, so before commenting any further on that, I probably should have a discussion with the Solicitor General.
Thank you very much.