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New checks for airline workers, help with mortgages considered

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The administration considered new security checks for airline workers on Monday and granted mortgage relief to thousands of reservists called to active duty as part of the coming war on terrorism. The stock market rallied after last week's plunge.

''We'll come out of this and we'll come out of it strong,'' said President Bush, as he sought to coax investors and consumers to open their wallets. Despite the impact of this month's terror attacks on the economy, he said, ''The fundamentals for growth are very strong.''

From halfway across the globe, Osama bin Laden rallied Pakistani Muslims to ''give everything they own'' to combat what he called ''a Christian-Jewish crusade (against Islam) led by the big crusader Bush under the flag of the cross.''

Identified repeatedly by administration officials as the lead suspect in the attacks, he said those who died in Pakistan protesting the United States' response were martyrs to Islam's cause.

Bush met privately at the White House with relatives of those who died aboard a hijacked plane that crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside on Sept 11. Neither he nor those he met with spoke publicly afterward.

The plane hit the ground after what officials have described as a heroic struggle in which passengers prevented the terrorists from flying into a high-profile target in Washington.

Three other planes were hijacked that day; two were piloted into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York, the other into the Pentagon in Washington. In all, more than 6,000 people died in the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history.

A CBS-New York Times poll released during the day underscored the extent to which the attacks had galvanized public opinion and also disclosed a broad anxiety about potential terrorist threats.

Bush's handling of the issue drew the support of 90 percent of those surveyed, and 92 percent expressed backing for American military action in response. At the same time, 78 percent said they believed another terrorist attack was likely in the United States. The survey questioned 1,216 individuals between Sept. 20-23 and had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Gradually, the administration was disclosing details of what Bush has called a ''different kind of war,'' announcing some steps that were offensive in nature, others designed to protect the nation from further terrorist attacks.

In a letter sent to Congress under the War Powers Act, Bush said he had ordered the deployment of ''various combat-equipped and combat support forces to a number of foreign nations'' in the Middle Eastern, Asian and Pacific regions of the world. ''I may find it necessary to order additional forces to these and other areas,'' he added in a letter that said it was not possible to predict the scope and duration of the deployments.

In a Rose Garden ceremony, the president called on foreign banks to follow the lead of the United States and freeze the assets of 27 individuals and entities. ''Money is the lifeblood of terrorist operations. Today, we're asking the world to stop payment,'' he said.

The Clinton administration had also sought to freeze the assets of terrorist groups in this country. But Bush, who signed an executive order on Sunday, said he was doing more, expanding the list and demanding that other nations and banks follow suit.

''We're putting banks and financial institutions around the world on notice,'' he said. If they fail to assist, the Treasury Department ''now has the authority to freeze their banks' assets and transactions in the United States,'' he said.

Wall Street showed signs of optimism for the first time since reopening after the attacks. The New York stock exchange gained 368 points, reversing roughly one-quarter of last week's 1,369-point drop.

In a spate of actions announced during the day, the administration said it was considering ordering airports and airlines to redo criminal checks and scrutinize employment histories for baggage handlers, food service workers and other employees who have access to airliners, ramps, tarmacs and other secure areas.

The move came more than a week after officials lifted a ban on flights imposed in the wake of the attacks.

In other actions, the administration:

n Extended through Monday a moratorium imposed Sunday on flights by crop dusters, viewed as possible weapons for chemical warfare. It will be lifted at 12:05 a.m. local time. Attorney General John Ashcroft told Congress that one suspected hijacker had shown interest in crop-dusters and that another person now in federal custody had downloaded information about the planes from the internet.

n Announced that all reservists and members of the National Guard who are called to active duty will have their home mortgage interest rates reduced. The government invoked the 1940 Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act to require all Federal Housing Authority-approved lenders to reduce their rate to a maximum of 6 percent. Mortgage lenders also will be prohibited from foreclosing on military members' home loans while they are serving on active duty, and renters cannot be evicted. The Education Department announced relief for reservists with student loans.

The investigation ground on.

Ashcroft said 352 people have now been arrested or detained in the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks and another 392 people were being sought for questioning.

Bush's comments about the economy came in the Rose Garden.

''I think when the investors sit back and take a hard look at the fundamentals of the economy, they'll get back in the market,'' he said. ''I think the consumers will realize life is going on.''



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