The top U.S. law enforcement official says he is eager to use new anti-terrorism laws working their way through Congress to crack down on suspected terrorists operating in the United States. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft spoke Thursday to a group of U.S. mayors meeting in Washington.
Attorney General Ashcroft told the U.S. Conference of Mayors that the Justice Department is now positioned to launch a new offensive against suspected terrorists - thanks to legislation that President Bush is expected to sign into law Friday.
"Let the terrorists among us be warned," Mr. Ashcroft said. "If you overstay your visas by one day, we will arrest you. If you violate a local law, we will work to make sure that you are in jail and be kept in custody as long as possible. We will use every available statute, we will seek every prosecutorial advantage. We will use all our weapons within the law and under the Constitution to protect life and enhance security for America."
Mr. Ashcroft says the new anti-terrorism law will enable investigators to impose what he calls "airtight surveillance" on suspected terrorists by expanding powers to monitor their communications.
The attorney general compared this new offensive on terrorism with the aggressive efforts of then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy in his pursuit of organized crime in the 1960s. He says to date nearly 1,000 people have been arrested or detained in connection with the investigation into the September 11 terrorist attacks.
U.S. mayors have been meeting in Washington for a special safety and security summit in the wake of the terrorist attacks. They also heard from the director of homeland security, Tom Ridge, who promised greater cooperation between federal agencies and local governments in preparing for possible future terrorist attacks.
"Mayors are the first responders," Mr. Ridge said. "You are very much a part of what we we have done and need to do in the future because America understands you are on the front lines and it is clear that the only way that we can combat threats to our nation's security is to engage every citizen at every level of government."
Mr. Ridge says the office of homeland security is sending teams of preparedness experts to several cities to work with local officials on improving cooperation in dealing with terrorist attacks. He also says there will be a new emphasis on staging practice exercises to help local communities work out their logistical problems during a simulated terrorist attack.