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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 13:58 GMT
US amnesty for terror informants
US Attorney General John Ashcroft
Ashcroft wants to broaden the terror inquiry
United States Attorney General John Ashcroft has announced a new initiative to encourage illegal immigrants to give information about the 11 September terror attacks.

I am directing the INS... in appropriate cases... to grant parole in the public interest to allow the alien to enter and remain in the United States

John Ashcroft
Anyone coming forward with specific intelligence will be offered "immigration relief" - in some cases, permission to stay legally in the US.

"We obviously realise a lot of the information we need in order to fight terrorism exists in the non-citizen community," said a US Justice Department official.

The announcement comes after Mr Ashcroft was criticised for plans to question 5,000 foreign men, mainly from Middle Eastern countries, as part of the ongoing investigation in the attacks on New York and Washington.

Scheme extended

Information given by illegal aliens must be "reliable and useful" to merit inclusion in what is called the "Cooperators' Programme".

Assistant attorney general Mike Chertoff
The assistant attorney general denied freedom was being trampled on
Federal prosecutors will decide whether the information meets the required standard.

It is unclear what will happen to any illegal residents who come forward with information that does not qualify them for immigration benefits.

The scheme extends the "S" visa system, which offers about 50 three-year residence visas annually to non-citizens who provide "critical and reliable" information concerning terrorism.

However, to qualify for an "S" visa the applicant must have placed their life in danger.

'No secret trials'

The Justice Department has issued a list of 5,000 men from 24 countries whom it wishes federal prosecutors to question.

The "Cooperators' Programme" is intended to encourage the men to come forward and offer any information they may have.

The men aged between 18 and 33 have entered the US since January 2000.

Civil rights' groups had accused the government of trying to round people up.

Mr Ashcroft's deputy, Michael Chertoff, defended the move.

"The presumption that we are going to hold secret trials is an unfair presumption," he said.

See also:

28 Nov 01 | Americas
Senate probes tough terror measures
26 Oct 01 | Americas
US anti-terror laws draw fire
29 Sep 01 | Americas
UN backs anti-terrorism moves
27 Sep 01 | Americas
US presses UN over terrorism
10 Oct 01 | Americas
America's 'most wanted terrorists'
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