Watch CBSN Live

Ashcroft Praises German Anti-Terror Law

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on Friday praised Germany's newly enacted law that allows authorities to ban religious organizations used as fronts for extremists, saying it was a necessary measure in the war on terrorism.

The law, which came into force Dec. 8, was brought about after authorities investigating possible connections to the Sept. 11 attacks argued they were being hamstrung in their efforts by strict legislation protecting religious freedoms.

Interior Minister Otto Schily made quick use of the new law, on Wednesday banning an Islamic organization he accused of being a "breeding ground for terrorists," and saying the legislation could lead to the expulsion of many extremists who have been granted asylum in Germany.

"We commend Germany for its actions to provide greater opportunity to detect and disrupt terrorism through a better framework of laws in Germany," Ashcroft said after meeting with Schily to talk about the legislation and the overall German investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks, which authorities believe were planned by a terrorist cell in Hamburg.

"As you well know, in the United States we were confronted with the need to upgrade our capacity legislatively as well."

Ashcroft's short trip through Europe started in Britain, then Spain, Germany, and will end in Italy — four countries believed to be key logistics points for the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Arrests of people accused of having direct links to the Sept. 11 attacks have been made in Britain, Germany and Spain, and Italian authorities have several men in custody who are believed to be part of al-Qaida, including Essid Sami Ben Khemais, the suspected head of Osama bin Laden's European logistical operation, according to local prosecutors.

Ashcroft is meeting with top law enforcement officials in each country, but would not say if the trip represented a shift of the focal point of the investigation to Europe now that leads in the United States appear to be drying up.

"My trip here is to express my appreciation for the outstanding cooperation of this great nation and other nations helping us confront international terrorism," Ashcroft said.

He did say that the United States is looking forward to working closely with German officials "to cut off funding sources that sustain international terrorism," but then later explained the cooperation would be part of an effort involving many countries.

"It's very important that we choke off the lifeblood of financing of terrorist groups, and that's something that we need the cooperation of every nation to achieve," Ashcroft said.

While in London on Wednesday, Ashcroft told reporters the United States would deal with European objections to the death penalty on a case-by-case basis as it seeks extradition of suspects linked to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He would not address the issue in Berlin, simply saying that he and Schily had not discussed the case of Mounir El Motassadeq, the only peron in custody in Germany on charges related to the Sept. 11 attacks. Motassadeq is accused of controlling an account used to bankroll several of the hijackers.

European countries have abolished the death penalty and will not extradite suspects who face the death penalty in another country.

©MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed