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New US Legal Measures Make Catching Terrorists Easier

The U.S. government has begun to assemble local anti-terrorist task forces around the country and has expanded its powers to detain immigrants for questioning. The measures are a response to last week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The top U.S. law enforcement official Attorney General John Ashcroft says the country's immigration service has doubled the time it can hold a foreigner without charging him with a crime.

Immigration officials can now detain aliens 48 hours. Under emergencies or other extraordinary circumstances, they can hold them longer.

Mr. Ashcroft says the new rule applies to 75 people immigration authorities have in custody for visa violations people they believe might have information about the terrorist attacks.

The attorney general says the Justice Department is seeking more than 190 others for questioning.

"We have a responsibility to use every legal means at our disposal to prevent further terrorist activity by taking people into custody who have violated the law and who may pose a threat to America," Mr. Ashcroft said. "The details that we have learned and the enormous destruction and devastation that was caused by last Tuesday's attack have brought us to a turning point in our country's fight against terrorism and the preservation of the safety and security of our society."

In addition to expanded immigration powers, the Justice Department is creating anti-terrorist task forces led by federal prosecutors across the country. The attorney general says they will include officials from the various federal and local law enforcement agencies.

The goal, he says, is to exchange information about suspected terrorist activities as the foundation for a concerted national attempt to disrupt and punish terrorists throughout the United States.

Mr. Ashcroft says the move represents a greater preventive effort than in the past.

"We must all recognize that our mission has changed. The threat that seemed fairly remote to most Americans seven days ago is now felt in every heart and every home in the United States," he said. "If we are to dispel this threat, we must meet it with ingenuity and with determination."

Mr. Ashcroft says the hijacking probe has led investigators to suspect that the terrorists targeted more than four passenger jets for takeover last week. But he concedes they cannot confirm that.