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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 22:19 GMT
Inquiry into hijackers' visas
Flight 175 approaches south tower
Atta and al-Shehhi were on two of the hijacked planes
The US Attorney General John Ashcroft has called for a review of the procedures of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) after it approved the visa applications of two 11 September hijackers.

This is inexcusable, this an interesting wake-up call for the people that run the INS

President Bush
The US flight school where two of the hijackers trained received letters saying their visa applications have been approved - six months after the World Trade Center attacks.

Mr Ashcroft said that the review should include not only the INS's failure to stop the delivery of the notification letters, but also the source of the delay in processing the letters.

President George W Bush said he was "stunned" by the incident. Earlier the White House said he had ordered US Director for Homeland Security Tom Ridge to work with Mr Ashcroft to prevent this from happening again.

Call for reform

"The INS needs to be reformed and we've got to push hard to do so... It needs to be modernised so we know who's coming, and who's going out and why they're here," Mr Bush said.

Mohammed Atta
Atta was believed to be the terrorists' ringleader

"This is inexcusable, this an interesting wake-up call for the people that run the INS," he added.

Mr Ashcroft issued a memorandum requesting the Justice Department's Inspector General to conduct a thorough investigation.

"It is inexcusable when document mismanagement leads to a breakdown of this magnitude," Mr Ashcroft said.

"Individuals will be held responsible for any professional incompetence that led to this failure, and inferior INS quality-control mechanisms will be reformed," he added.

Visa status changed

The INS admitted on Tuesday that the two hijackers, Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, had had their visas changed from visitor to student.

The important thing to recognise is the decisions to change their status were made... before 11 September

Russ Bergeron, INS spokesman

The INS approved the men's application to stay in the country on 17 July.

The INS said the Huffman International Flying School was informed about the decision last summer and the latest documents were "back-up notification" which had been delayed in being sent out.

Atta, who came from Egypt, and al-Shehhi, of the United Arab Emirates, trained at the flying school in July, last year.

They had entered the United States on visitors' visas and applied for M-1 visas, given to students on technical courses.

Lack of information

The INS then gave its approval for Atta and al-Shehhi to remain in the US until 1 October, 2001, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Marwan al-Shehhi
Al-Shehhi: Suspected of flying the second plane into the towers

A spokesman for the INS blamed a backlog of paperwork at a processing centre in Kentucky for the delay in dispatching the letters.

"The important thing to recognise is the decisions to change their status were made... before 11 September, and at the time there was no information made available to INS regarding these people," said Russ Bergeron.

The owner of the flight school, Rudi Dekkers, said Atta and al-Shehhi had applied for the visas on 29 August, 2000, before they began their six-month training course.

See also:

12 Mar 02 | Americas
Light gives hope to New Yorkers
09 Jan 02 | Americas
Hijacker 'pulled over by police'
02 Jan 02 | Americas
US terror suspect defies court
12 Dec 01 | Americas
US lays first 11 September charges
16 Nov 01 | Americas
Recording reveals hijack struggle
13 Sep 01 | Americas
Evidence trails lead to Florida
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