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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 23:01 GMT
Al-Qaeda suspects 'in US custody'
US Attorney General John Ashcroft
Ashcroft: Arrests designed to protect Americans
The US attorney general has said he believes some al-Qaeda members are among the more than 550 people being held on charges related to terrorism.

It is the first time the American authorities claim to have caught any members of Osama Bin Laden's network.

We believe we have al-Qaeda membership in custody, and we will use every constitutional tool to keep suspected terrorists locked up

John Ashcroft
Attorney General John Ashcroft would not say how many he believed were in custody - only that he would use every constitutional tool to keep them locked up.

His announcement was the first official accounting of those in custody for several weeks, since it became known that 1,100 people had been arrested since the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

Mr Ashcroft rejected charges that civil rights were being violated in the hunt for suspected terrorists

Immigration charges

"A number of the individuals that are being detained... are suspected terrorists," John Ashcroft told reporters.

Osama Bin Laden
Mr Ashcroft said he did not intend to give Bin Laden a 'list' of those detained
"With arrests and detentions, we have avoided further terrorist attacks... America's defences have grown stronger."

Of those in custody, Mr Ashcroft said that 104 people had been formally charged with federal crimes, of whom 55 remain in custody.

Another 548 remain in custody on immigration charges - some have also been charged with federal crimes.

It is thought that the majority of those detained, most of whom have not been named, are of Middle Eastern descent.

Human rights concerns

Mr Ashcroft responded to criticism that the detention of the suspects, and the withholding of their names, has contravened their human rights.

"I am not interested in providing, when we are at war, a list to Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network of the people we have detained that would make any easier their effort to kill Americans," he said.

But Lucas Guttentag, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said more information needed to be released about those in detention.

"It is ironic that the government is now concerned about rights when it has arrested and jailed hundreds of people without giving the American public any proof that the detainees are being treated fairly," he said.

Mr Ashcroft also said that those held on suspicion of terrorist activity would not have their legal counsel paid by the federal government.

The BBC's Richard Lister in Washington
"Suspected terrorists have been arrested in America"
See also:

09 Nov 01 | Americas
Doubts over FBI shake-up
31 Oct 01 | Americas
US alert linked to Bin Laden
26 Oct 01 | Americas
US anti-terror laws draw fire
16 Jan 01 | Americas
Profile: John Ashcroft
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