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U.S. to offer immigration incentives for terrorism information

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Thursday a new plan to possibly offer immigration assistance to encourage international citizens living in the United States or abroad to come forward with information about suspected terrorists.

"If you have information which is reliable information and useful to us in preventing terrorism and apprehending those who are involved in terrorist activities, bring it to the FBI or if you are overseas, to an embassy, and you could as a result of that information be provided a visa which will allow you to be in the United States, allow you if necessary to work in the United States and provide a basis for your someday becoming a citizen," Ashcroft said.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft promises immigration aid to non-citizens who provide terror information. CNN's Eileen O'Connor reports (November 29)

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Calling the new plan the "responsible cooperators program," Ashcroft said, "We want the kind of responsible people who would help us in the war against terrorism."

Ashcroft sent a directive Thursday to the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, all United States attorneys and the Justice Department's Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, outlining the new incentive initiative.

It would be up to federal prosecutors to decide whether the information provided meets the standard, Justice Department officials said.

In an interview with CNN, Ashcroft refused to confirm reports that of the hundreds of individuals currently in U.S. custody, only 12 are believed to have provided information about suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.

"I am not confirming any number," Ashcroft said. "I am indicating that among the people that we have, we obviously feel like we have individuals related to terrorism and I don't want to say we think it is as small as the number that you cited or try to give a number on that.

"I am not going to do anything that I think would provide information to the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden," he added.

Ashcroft defended the Justice Department's approach, saying he believes it has been useful in preventing future terrorist attacks.

"We know now that when we continue to work hard, that when those associated with terrorists, when those who are violators of the law, are not only questioned and arrested but they're detained, that we reduce the potential that we have terrorist attacks," he said.

Ashcroft defends military tribunals

The attorney general also defended the president's decision to consider using military tribunals to try suspected terrorists such as bin Laden or members of his al Qaeda network.

"There are very clear Supreme Court cases that confirm the authority of the president to use military commissions for war crimes," he said.

Ashcroft said the president should have this authority and argued Bush would use it "wisely."

Senators told the government's top terrorism prosecutor Wednesday that they should have been consulted before the Bush administration decided to allow the Pentagon to create the military courts.

Lawmakers, civil rights groups and Arab-American organizations have also raised concerns about plans to question 5,000 international males, mostly from Middle Eastern countries, as part of the terrorism investigation.

The Justice Department issued a list of 5,000 to federal prosecutors and asked local police to help locate and question men with passports issued from 24 countries where members of Osama bin Laden's network hide out.


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