A congressman says visas sent for two dead hijackers "show how incompetent the INS is." More than 160 O'Hare Airport workers have criminal histories. Thousands are flocking to the Pennsylvania field where Flight 93 crashed.
Hijacker Visas Show ‘Incompetent’ INS
W A S H I N G T O N, March 14 — The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said today that the approval of visas for two Sept. 11 hijackers offers new evidence why the Immigration and Naturalization Service should be abolished.
"It certainly showed how incompetent the INS is," Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said on CBS' The Early Show. "It is one fiasco after the other."
Sensenbrenner's comments drew immediate ire from the union that represents 24,000 INS employees. The American Federation of Government Employees said responsibility lies with the contractor that processed the forms.
"Experienced INS workers who have been working 12-hour shifts to fight the war on terrorism should not be wrongly accused for a contractor's serious error," said Bobby L. Harnage, national president of the union.
The INS action also got the attention of President Bush, who on Wednesday spelled out his displeasure on learning that student visas for Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi were delivered six months after they flew hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center.
Bush ordered the attorney general to investigate and press the INS to do better. "They got the message and hopefully, they'll reform as quickly as possible," Bush said at a news conference.
The president first said he was "stunned, and not happy" when he learned about the visas. "Let me put it another way: I was plenty hot," he added.
Bush said he was unhappy that the visas remained in the immigration pipeline even though the names on the forms were widely known. He said INS Commissioner James Ziglar was responsible for "this embarrassing disclosure," but should be given a chance to rectify the problem.
"His responsibility is to reform the INS; let's give him time to do so. He hasn't been there that long," Bush said.
Sensenbrenner is proposing to replace the INS with two separate agencies that would be under the control of an assistant attorney general. He said Ziglar does not have the proper managerial background to run either agency.
"Mr. Ziglar should lead, follow or get out of the way," the congressman said.
On Monday, six months after the attacks, Huffman Aviation in Venice, Fla., received student visa approval forms for Atta, 33, and Al-Shehhi, 23. The men were aboard separate hijacked planes that struck the World Trade Center towers, killing thousands.
The pair trained at Huffman in 2000 and early 2001 and sought student visas so they could attend technical schools. The visa for Atta, of Egypt, was approved in July 2001 and a visa for Al-Shehhi, of United Arab Emirates, was approved the following month, said Russ Bergeron, an immigration agency spokesman.
Bergeron described the paperwork the flight school received as a backstop on notification the INS gave the men and the school last summer. He said the INS had no information "regarding these people and their link to terrorism" when the visas were granted.
Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., whose district borders the flight school, said the INS can't blame a lack of funds or equipment.
"How this wasn't discovered by even a rank-and-file worker is beyond my comprehension," Foley said. "Anything with Mohamed Atta's name on it should send alarm bells blasting."
—The Associated Press
167 O’Hare Airport Workers Have Criminal Backgrounds
C H I C A G O, March 14 — A Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman says 167 employees at O'Hare International and Midway airports can't work in secure areas because background checks have uncovered their criminal histories.
Monique Bond says the workers have been denied identification badges that would allow them into secure areas such as aircraft, ramp, baggage and checkpoint areas.
The background checks involve running fingerprints through an FBI database.
But officials say the workers with criminal backgrounds might not have convictions.
Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Rebecca Trexler says FBI records might not include information to indicate if the person was convicted.
Bond says most of the employees will have suitable explanations and return to work.
—The Associated Press
Charges, $1 Million Bail Dropped in Fake ID Case
L A N C A S T E R, Pa., March 14 — County prosecutors said today that they will withdraw charges filed against an Egyptian national for allegedly showing a suspicious identification card at a nightclub, and have turned him over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Ahmed Ebrahim Moussa, 25, has been in police custody since March 7, when a bouncer at a nightclub questioned whether his photo identification card was real. Police subsequently found him holding documents they said were "known to be affiliated with active terrorism networks."
Police on Wednesday identified the documents in Moussa's possession as the ID card, which purported to be a "Legal First Amendment Non-Government" identification card for New Jersey residents, and papers offering advice on how to behave if he was stopped and questioned by police.
Lancaster prosecutors said the criminal charge of possessing altered, forged or counterfeit documents will be dropped. They had intended to argue today that Moussa should be held on $1 million bail because he was a "danger" and a flight risk, but the hearing was canceled.
Assistant District Attorney Donald R. Totaro offered no explanation for the change in the charges. He said all evidence seized in the case has been turned over to INS agents in Philadelphia.
Moussa will remain in INS custody on immigration violation charges, he said.
The INS has previously confirmed that Moussa had been in the United States on a temporary visa that expired in January.
Moussa's lawyer, Samuel Encarnacion, said his client had applied for an extension, and hadn't heard back from the INS until the day after his arrest.
Encarnacion said Moussa has no links to terrorism and was only carrying instructions on how to deal with police because he didn't speak much English and worried that authorities might find him suspicious.
—The Associated Press
Thousands Drawn to Pennsylvania Crash Site
S H A N K S V I L L E, Pa., March 14 — So many out-of-towners have been wandering through this tiny village in search of the United Flight 93 crash site that residents have formed a corps of volunteers to lead them to the barren hilltop and makeshift memorial.
Unlike the World Trade Center site, there is no viewing platform at the spot where the Boeing 757 went down on Sept. 11. Still, in the six months since the attacks, thousands have visited the open field where a steady, cold wind stirs yellow dirt into the air.
Hand-stenciled, cardboard signs lead people to the site, where members of Shanksville's volunteer "ambassador program," created by resident Donna Glessner, take over.
"We were waiting for some official types to do it, but it's kind of a no-man's land and it became apparent that nobody else was going to do it," Glessner said.
One of the program's 20 volunteers stands watch at the site during daylight hours Wednesday through Sunday. Visitors hang mementos on a 30-foot-long fence that stands near a brass plaque inscribed with the names of the 40 victims.
Glessner said at least 1,000 people visit the site every weekend, even during harsh winter days when winds can reach 60 mph and snow cuts visibility to 100 yards. The 260-resident community near the site — a former strip mine now owned by a coal company — is about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh.
In November, a group from Japan arrived in limousines, said Barbara Black, curator of the Historical and Genealogical Society of Somerset County.
"They performed some sort of Buddhist ceremony, left a picture and a Japanese flag and some other things and then they were gone," Black said.
Rep. John Murtha said he will ask Congress to authorize a permanent memorial at the site under the auspices of the National Park Service.
Karl Rickman, 76, of Salem, Ohio, said the people aboard Flight 93 showed heroism he could not fathom. A native of Jamaica, Rickman joined the Royal Air Force as a teen-ager and flew combat missions over Germany during World War II.
"I was quite humbled — it gives you a chill," he said after visiting the site. "Those people in Shanksville are doing a bang-up job telling us what happened in their town. It's something every American should see."
Officials say the hijackers probably planned to hit a target in Washington. Todd Beamer was heard saying, "Let's roll!" on an in-flight phone just before he and other passengers apparently fought back.
—The Associated Press