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World: U.S. Mounts Gigantic Investigation, Seeks To Resume Normal Life

The United States has assembled an immense corps of agents and others to investigate the 11 September terrorist attacks. The country has also focused its diplomatic power to build a coalition for what President George W. Bush has called "the first war of the 21st century" -- a prolonged unconventional war against terrorism. RFE/RL correspondent Don Hill reports that across the United States, financial and other institutions are striving today to return to a semblance of normalcy.

Prague, 17 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. leaders have sent agents and other investigators into the field, both at home and overseas, and are continuing diplomatic efforts to piece together an international coalition for an unconventional war against terrorism.

As President George W. Bush told reporters at the White House yesterday:

"We will continue to work with Pakistan and India. We will work with Russia, we will work with the nations that one would have thought a couple of years ago would have been impossible to work with, to bring people to justice but more than that, to win the war against terrorist activity."

As a result of U.S. requests to Pakistan's military leader, General Pervez Musharraf, a delegation of Pakistani military intelligence chiefs and Foreign Ministry officials began a series of meetings today with Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. They are trying to persuade Taliban officials to hand over Saudi-born terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, said it has deployed an army of agents along with investigators from other agencies across the country and internationally in what officials called the largest investigation in U.S. history. Authorities have code-named the investigation "Pent-bomb."

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft:

"We have launched the largest single investigation in the history of the United States. We have 4,000 active FBI agents pursuing a wide variety of tips and understandings and questions. We will get to the bottom of this circumstance."

Law-enforcement and intelligence authorities were concentrating efforts on locating people who may have assisted the suicide bombers. The FBI says 19 people were directly involved in executing the terrorist strike.

Authorities said they took a man into custody in New York yesterday as a possible material witness. This followed the arrest at Kennedy International Airport of another man who was carrying a phony pilot's license. A third man also has been detained as a material witness. Officials are using a federal grand jury in New York City to take testimony. They cited grand jury secrecy rules in refusing to provide details.

German security officials say that a small technical university in the port city of Hamburg unknowingly harbored a cell of Islamic fundamentalists, a group that included at least three of the hijackers who carried out and died in the attacks. One took courses in flight engineering and aircraft construction and had a Hamburg pilot's license. Federal prosecutor Kay Nehm said police found airplane-related documents in an apartment he shared with a German girlfriend.

Exhausted rescue workers continued today to sift and search through the wreckage of the ruins of the World Trade Center. By midday today, 190 people had been recorded as confirmed dead there, and nearly 5,000 were listed as missing. Five survivors had been rescued from the wreckage, but none since 12 September.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani:

"The [number of] missing has been readjusted by going through it and determining where there might be possible duplication, and the number that we have right now is 4,957, of which we have 190 confirmed dead."

President Bush yesterday urged Americans to resume normal activities today to the extent possible. Domestic airlines began slowly to return to scheduled flights. Reagan National Airport, near the Pentagon site where hijackers crashed an airliner, remained closed, possibly permanently.

U.S. financial and other institutions began a tentative process of returning to normal operations. The U.S. stock market, after shutting down all last week from the hour of the attacks, was scheduled to reopen today at the normal opening time of 0930. There were fears of a major drop in share prices, but some analysts say there may be a "patriotic rally" as investors will try to shore up the market rather than maximize their profit.

U.S. investment leader Warren Buffet, whose investment strategies are widely followed, said in a television interview yesterday that he would not be selling today. If prices drop substantially, he said, he will be buying. However, most stock indices in Asia fell about five percent today.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that one branch of the probe into the 11 September attacks is centering on personal computers and e-mail. FBI Director Robert Mueller said agents have conducted more than 30 searches of electronic communication data and are to analyze the resulting data.

Government officials and lawyers have begun discussing possible changes to U.S. law in order to enable law-enforcement agencies to fight terrorism more efficiently. Justice Department officials say that the nature of court-authorized wiretaps must change. They say warrants henceforth will be sought for electronic surveillance not of a particular telephone but of named individuals and groups. They say that's because people in modern times have access to a variety of communication devices including the Internet and cell-phones.

In another development, the Senate has approved granting authority to the Justice Department to open emergency communication surveillance without prior court approval, with a federal judge's approval to come later. Civil rights watchdog groups have expressed concern about this development.