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Bush upset by INS visas to hijackers, aide says

President Bush wants an explanation for why the Immigration and Naturalization Service sent student visa approval forms for two hijackers six months after the September 11 attacks.  

From Major Garrett
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Displeased by the government's approval of student visas for two hijackers in the September 11 attacks, President Bush has ordered Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft to "get to the bottom of this immediately," an aide said Wednesday.

White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan said the president noted the reports that the Immigration and Naturalization Service sent student visa approval forms this week to the Florida flight school where the two trained to carry out the terrorist plot. The school received the approval notice Monday, exactly six months after the New York attacks.

Mohammed Atta, 33, and Marwan Al-Shehhi, 23, learned to fly at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida, in July 2000 and were aboard separate flights that struck the World Trade Center towers.

"The president is very displeased," McClellan said. "He wants to know how and why it happened and wants it fixed. The president has directed Gov. Ridge to work with the attorney general and get to the bottom of this immediately. This is unacceptable."

Atta of Egypt and Al-Shehhi of the United Arab Emirates originally entered the United States on visitors' visas. They applied for M-1 student visas distributed to students attending technical schools.

An INS spokesman said the delay in delivering the approval forms for Atta and Al-Shehhi is due to a backlog in paperwork processing. Generally, students are allowed to remain in the United States as they await processing of their student visa requests.

Gordon Johndroe, deputy press secretary for the Office of Homeland Security, said the INS needs to "be more careful when they look at these things."

Ashcroft is drafting a statement for release later Wednesday that will call for the Justice Department inspector general to conduct an investigation of the issue as soon as possible.

"The attorney general is extremely concerned and furious about the situation," a Justice Department official said. "We should not have confirmation letters going out six months later. That's an internal problem we need to fix."




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