September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
FBI Director Robert Mueller Press Conference Manila; March 18, 2002

Transcript FBI Director Robert Mueller Press Conference March 18, 2002 US Embassy Seafront Compound, Manila

Mueller: Good afternoon and thank you for being here. I'm here on a fairly short visit to do a number of things. I had a meeting this morning with President Arroyo, and one of the first things I wanted to do was express the appreciation of the President of the United States to the strong stance on terrorism that President Arroyo has set out. It is welcomed by the United States and we greatly appreciate the stance against terrorism that she and her government and the Filipino people have taken.

I am here traveling in the region to thank a number of countries for the cooperative efforts that they have had with the FBI prior to September 11th and subsequent to September 11th. It is critically important for law enforcement to work together to address a number of transnational issues, terrorism is one of them, cyber crime another, trafficking in persons yet another, frauds that cut across national borders is yet another. And, in this day and age, it is critically important that we work cooperatively to bring those who break the laws of the various countries to justice. In the wake of September 11th we all understand, I believe, in law enforcement, that there is no one agency, no one country that can successfully address terrorism, and it is critically important that the FBI work with its law enforcement counterparts around the world to exchange information and work together to prevent another September 11th happening, whether it be in the United States, or in the Philippines, or in Thailand, or in Singapore, or any other country.

Having spent a number of years in law enforcement, it is my strong belief that it is the personal relationships that enable you to work closely together in law enforcement. And consequently, I am here. I'm meeting with my counterparts, exchanging information, exchanging views and learning from each other. One other point I would want to make, and that is that the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam. It is not directed at a Muslim community. To the contrary, we all understand that we're looking at individuals who commit terrorist acts against women and children. In the United States, after September 1lth and since September 11th, we have understood that there may be those in the United States who would take some form of action against our Muslim-American community or against our Arab-American community. Since September 11th we have initiated more than 325 investigations against those who would assault or otherwise harass our Muslim -American community. We have indicted 11 in federal court, and state local authorities have indicted another 85. We have a very large, vibrant, Muslim-American and Arab-American community in the United States. They are United States' citizens. We treasure their participation in our democracy, and we have aggressively investigated and prosecuted anybody who would take action them.

The war against terrorism is a war against individuals. It is not against communities, and not against religions. Consequently, we take our mandate in the FBI very seriously. I want to finish by thanking the Ambassador, by thanking the embassy team, by thanking President Arroyo and her administration for their hospitality while I've been here but also for the strong cooperation that the Philippine government, that the Philippine people have accorded us over the years. I'd be more than happy to answer any questions that you might have. Don't be shy.

Maria Ressa, Cnn: Could you give us -- since you've been traveling around the region -- an idea of al-Qaeda's strength and what it looks like in Southeast Asia, and then as a follow-up to that question: A man has been wanted for arrests in a number of countries, a man -- he's an Indonesian cleric, Riduan Isamudin, known as Hambali. Is he on the FBI radar screen?

Mueller: Let me address the first questions about al-Qaeda in this region. I think it's clear that al-Qaeda has a presence in this region. I wouldn't specify particular countries. You're all aware of the arrests undertaken by the Singaporean authorities in December of eleven individuals who -- no, it was fifteen individuals. And in the course of doing searches attendant upon those arrests, videotapes were found of their efforts to reconnoiter the various United States' and American assets installations clearly preparatory to some sort of terrorist acts. So, without a question of a doubt, we believe al-Qaeda operatives are in this area and we, with our counterparts -- whether it be in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand or the Philippines -- are on the alert for those who might have been associated with al-Qaeda and those who might be contemplating additional acts. I understand you asked about an individual by the name of Hambali -- and the only thing I will say is that he is known to a number of authorities in the region, and that we are working with our counterparts with regard to identifying and locating any individual who may be associated with al-Qaeda -- any individual who may be contemplating a terrorist act against -- whether it be United States' persons or Filipino persons. Whether it be in the Philippines or in Thailand or Indonesia or one of the other countries in this region.

Malou Talosig, Today: Can you assess the ongoing Balikatan exercises between the Philippines and the US troops? Has the information you gathered so far been beneficial to the US especially on the war against terrorism?

Mueller: I'm the FBI; I'm not military. I am not prepared to discuss, really, whatever military exercises may be taking place. I will tell you, in the law enforcement area with the Philippines, we have a very close relationship with the Philippine police, with the Filipino FBI and with our counterparts in the law enforcement sphere. I had a meeting this morning at the Department of Justice in which we discussed a number of extraditions that are important to us, including the extradition of Mark Jimenez, which is an important extradition, where we have sought the extradition of Mr. Jimenez -- and expeditiously -- back to the United States to face charges. We also have Filipino citizens who are in the United States for whom extradition has been sought, and we are working closely to ensure that those individuals are rendered back to the Philippines. It is important that we work within our respective judicial systems to accomplish the cooperation that is necessary to ensure that those who break the laws are brought to justice, and brought to justice swiftly.

Parameswaran, Agence France Presse: What has the investigations over the grand explosion in Islamabad, in a church -- what has it revealed so far on the links between al-Qaeda? Is it evident? And two, is Mark Jimenez's extradition: What's the latest? Will he be extradited soon?

Mueller: On the first issue relating to the bombing in Islamabad. One has to say it's an outrageous act that a person would go into a church and kill those -- and I don't care if it's a church or a mosque or another place of worship -- and kill those that worship. It's absolutely outrageous. But it is without a question of doubt, a terrorist act where you go into a church and you kill women and children. To the extent that there has been any investigation, I am not aware of the latest on the number of casualties. I can tell you that in the past we have worked closely with the Pakistani police, particularly in the investigation of the kidnapping-murder of Danny Pearl, and my expectation is we'll work closely with the Pakistani police to find who was responsible for this outrageous act and bring them to justice.

Your second question was related to the timing on the Jimenez extradition. We discussed that today at the Department of Justice, and I raised it with President Arroyo: our desire to, under the, quite obviously, under the legal procedures in the Philippines, have him extradited expeditiously.

Charmaine De La Gracias, Nhk: How do you really look at the MILF in so far as the reports of the military here that they're giving sanctuary or aiding the Abu Sayyaf Group? And also on the Jemaah Islamiya - how do you really look at the Jemaah Islamiya in so far as the al-Qaeda?

Mueller: Well, let me -- I'm more comfortable talking about the JI as opposed to the MILF because I am less familiar with what ties the MILF may have with al-Qaeda. I will say with the JI, and as you are familiar-- and I just mentioned 15 individuals were arrested in Singapore in December affiliated with the JI. We know that the JI has ties to al-Qaeda and we know that JI has other ties in other countries besides Singapore including Malaysia and Indonesia. That doesn't mean that it does not have ties here in the Philippines with Abu Sayyaf, and we are working together to put all the pieces in the puzzle so we can see exactly what the ties are, what the relationships are so that we can have a fuller portrait of al-Qaeda's presence in this region. I will also mention that it is also important to the war on terror that you, and by you I mean the Philippines, has passed a money laundering statute that is a critical component in the law enforcement response to transnational crime, whether it be terrorism or cyber crime or frauds on an international scale; that is critically important. We also in the United States struggled as you do with passing an anti-terrorism statute that will enable the government to identify those who are indeed true terrorists who kill women and children and detain them, and it is important to any judicial system in my mind or legal system to have an anti-terrorist statute, given what we have even seen prior to September 11th but particularly since September 11th, and I understand that such legislation may well be moving forward in the Philippines. We, to the extent we can help with our experience, will endeavor to do so, and look forward to the passage of that legislation. And if I can make one point: the passage of that legislation is not just to help the Philippines but also help us around the world to work cooperatively to address terrorism.

Reuters: Based on the evidence which the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have gathered, do you have any indication that al-Qaeda has developed nuclear capability capable of striking the U.S. and other targets outside the U.S.? And a second question: Again, based on the evidence that you have, would you have any idea where Osama bin Laden is, or if he's dead or alive?

Mueller: Well, let me take the first question on the nuclear capability. There is no question that al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were attempting to obtain weapons of mass destruction, and we have seen evidence of that in Afghanistan. He was attempting to obtain a biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. We have not seen any definitive evidence that he was successful, but there is enough there to cause us substantial concern and to pursue investigations, and to say to countries around the world to be on the alert for any efforts or attempts by terrorists groups, not just al-Qaeda, to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

Our current thinking as to whether Bin Laden is alive or dead: I have been out of touch for a period of time when I left the United States. I think it was our belief that he probably was still alive, we were not certain where, but I have been out of touch. CNN -- pardon me, I know you're from Reuters, but CNN had the latest. CNN generally covers the briefings by the military command and that question is always asked, so I would refer you to them.

Jude, Manila Standard: One senator, Senator Ople, suggested for the Philippine National Police and the FBI or the counterparts between the two countries to conduct a Balikatan-type of exercises. So, have you discussed this possibility of joint exercises between say the NBI or the PNP and the FBI?

Mueller: In law enforcement, we're not a military. We really do not use the language of exercises in the same way that the military does. We have a very close cooperative relationship with the NBI and with the Philippine National Police, and that is on an ongoing basis. It is a generalized relationship where we exchange training. The FBI provides training both here and back in the United States, and we seek training and information, and knowledge from the NBI and the Philippine National Police, and those are ongoing efforts. Where there is particular case, where there is a particular investigation then we work very closely together. We exchange information on an ongoing basis so we are very satisfied. It could not be -- I think more satisfied with the degree of cooperation, the eagerness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine NBI and the Philippine police. We are very thankful for all that we have accomplished together over the years and look forward to accomplishing more in the future.

Gloria Jane Baylon, Philippine News Agency: Let me just go directly to my question. Aside from the verbal exchanges, what sort of documents have you exchanged with Mr. Mendoza and the DOJ people? And what is it that the Scotland Yard could offer that the FBI could not?

Mueller: Well, I'm not going to discuss what we may have discussed or may have provided over a period of time, whether it be during the time I'm here or previously with either the NBI or General Mendoza. Scotland Yard is a very excellent law enforcement institution. They do things a little bit differently than we do in certain areas. We have a lot to learn from Scotland Yard, and we have exchanges with Scotland Yard. We have -- I think in today's world, where transnational crime is critically important and is devastating to our country as it is to others, we need, not only to work together, but to learn together, and we have learned and undertaken exchanges with police departments around the world, including the Philippines and NBI, and among those with Scotland Yard. And in my mind, that is the way it needs to be. That is the way it has to be in the future because we all operate in our separate judicial systems, our separate law enforcement systems, and we have to understand the constraints under which we have to operate, and it's important for us to learn about each of our agencies and work cooperatively to accomplish our law enforcement objectives within the judicial systems of each of the countries in which we operate.

Thank you very much, and thank you very much for your hospitality. Thank you.

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