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Ashcroft in Spain suspect talks

Ashcroft faced more questions in Spain on the death penalty  

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft met Spanish officials on Thursday on the second stop of a European tour aimed at shoring up international law enforcement cooperation to fight terrorism.

Last month, Spain jailed eight men on suspicion of collaborating in the September 11 attacks, and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said later in November, at a White House meeting with President George W. Bush, that Spain would "study" any extradition request from Washington.

The United States was not asking on Thursday for the extradition of any of the eight, nor was it informing the Spaniards it has any plans to do so soon, Mindy Tucker, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told CNN.

But Spain's leading newspaper, El Pais, reported on Thursday that the two officials meeting Ashcroft would reiterate Spain's reluctance to extradite any of the suspects because of the death penalty in the United States, which is not permitted in Spain.

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Ashcroft praised Spain after his first of two meetings, "for its outstanding assistance to the United States and the world in the fight against terrorism."

Ashcroft, accompanied by senior FBI and DEA officials, was informed by the Spaniards about its investigation into the September 11 attacks and Islamic militants linked to the al Qaeda network run by Osama bin Laden, said Mariano Rajoy, who holds the dual position of Spain's Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister in charge of police.

U.S. and Spanish officials have acknowledged that Mohamed Atta, an Egyptian whom the FBI says was a lynchpin of the September 11 attacks and who flew in the plane that struck the first World Trade Center tower, visited Spain twice this year, presumably to meet other terrorists.

But police have disclosed few specifics about Atta's trips to Spain, and have also been tight-lipped about other suspected Islamic militants who reportedly had been in Spain before the attacks.

Ashcroft will also will meet with Angel Acebes, the Justice Minister.

On Wednesday, on the first stop of his tour, Ashcroft said at a news conference, "The war is broader on terrorism than simply a war to eradicate specific individuals responsible for the terrorist acts of September 11."

After Spain, Ashcroft will travel to Germany and Italy, two other nations, along with Britain and Spain, where Islamic terrorist suspects have been arrested.

UK would seek assurances

On Wednesday during his visit to Britain Ashcroft did not rule out the possibility that terror suspects could face the death penalty if extradited from Europe to America.

Speaking at the U.S. Embassy in London following discussions with UK Home Secretary David Blunkett, said extraditions would be dealt with on a "case-by-case basis."

The British prime minister's office said on Monday that if Osama bin Laden was captured by British forces in Afghanistan, he would immediately be handed over to U.S. officials.

Downing Street made the statement a day after two British officials -- including Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon -- said the British government would extradite bin Laden for trial in the United States only if assurances were given that he would not face the death penalty.

Britain is just one of several European countries involved in the war on terror that have expressed concern over the use of the death penalty in the United States.

On Wednesday, France urged the United States to remove the threat of the death penalty for the first suspect indicted in the U.S. for conspiring with bin Laden on the September 11 attacks.

CNN's European Political Editor, Robin Oakley, says there have been stutters in Europe's responses to fighting terrorism.

"The House of Lords in Britain is mauling Blunkett's anti-terrorism bill and a reluctant Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, had to be strong-armed by other European leaders into agreeing to a Europe-wide arrest warrant," he said.

But Ashcroft insisted that cooperation between the UK and the US was a model of how the battle against terrorism should be fought.

He was not in Europe, he insisted, to tell others how to direct their fight against ther terrorists. That was a judgment each mature, sovereign nation had to make for itself.


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