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News Briefs

Defense Department Buys 80,000 Gas Masks for Workers

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

The Defense Department has bought 80,000 “escape masks” for people who work at the Pentagon and 46 other departmental buildings in the Washington area, officials said yesterday.

The masks, which cost $180 each, help protect against biological and chemical agents that might be used in a terrorist attack. The masks will be issued to Pentagon employees and others who work at the military headquarters by the end of the month. Employees, who will be trained on how to wear the masks, will keep them at their desks.

The disclosure that the department had purchased the masks came at a “town hall” meeting at the Pentagon and was reported by its in-house news service, the American Forces Press Service.

“With everything that is going on in the world, it’s probably reasonable -- and certainly sensible -- to assume we may be targeted again,” Ray DuBois, director of Washington Headquarters Services, told employees.

Florida Professor Arrested On Terror Charges

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

The Justice Department on Thursday accused a former Florida university professor of conspiracy to commit murder via suicide attacks in Israel and the Palestinian territories, saying he has secretly been a top leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorist organization for years.

In a 50-count indictment unsealed Thursday in Tampa, Fla., Sami al-Arian and seven other people, including three Muslim activists arrested Thursday in this country and several top officials of PIJ still at large abroad, also were charged with crimes ranging from racketeering to money laundering. Al-Arian was arrested at his suburban Tampa home Thursday.

Among those charged were Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, a close associate of al-Arian’s in Tampa during the 1990s who now heads Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) from Syria; and Abd Al Aziz Awda, a founder and spiritual leader of PIJ.

Federal agents have spent a decade developing a case against Al-Arian, who was relieved of his duties as a computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa in 2001. His case is one of the longest-running probes into alleged terrorist activities in U.S. history.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a news conference Thursday that changes in U.S. law under the USA PATRIOT Act, anti-terror legislation enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, allowed authorities to make the criminal case against Al-Arian.

Female Air Force Cadets Allegedly Punished for Reporting Rapes

THE WASHINGTON POST -- DENVER

A decade after a series of rape charges sparked a major effort to protect female cadets at the Air Force Academy, the Pentagon on Thursday launched an investigation into a spate of new cases in which female cadets said they were disciplined, ostracized or forced to leave the academy after reporting sexual assaults by fellow students.

Female cadets who reported being raped by male upperclassmen within the past two years have said they were warned by fellow cadets that they could face official discipline for underage drinking and “fraternization” -- that is, personal relations with a military superior -- if they brought formal charges against the men involved. Some cadets said they were told that assault in a social setting, such as a date or a party, is so difficult to prove that charges against the men involved would be futile.

The new Pentagon probe follows news stories on Denver’s KMGH-TV and in the Denver weekly newspaper Westword. Both outlets interviewed female cadets involved in a series of alleged assaults from early 2000 to last fall.

Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., called on the Defense Department and the academy to investigate the specific cases reported and the general circumstances surrounding sexual assault at the academy.

Congressmen Say U.S. Special Forces May Be Used

THE WASHINGTON POST -- BOGOTA, COLOMBIA

Three U.S. congressmen on Thursday called for a dramatic response from the Bush administration to track down three American civilians apparently seized by guerrillas after their plane crashed in a rebel stronghold last week.

The congressmen -- Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va), Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), and Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) -- met with Colombian and U.S. embassy officials during a two-day visit. The U.S. representatives suggested Thursday that any response could go well beyond a rescue operation and might employ U.S. Special Forces based in the country as part of a U.S.-sponsored training program.

“That’s obviously a possibility, but it’s up to the president,” Moran said, noting that more than 100 Special Forces trainers are currently participating in the search-and-rescue operation. “They (the U.S. government) consider this to be extremely serious, and I think it’s fair to say that they see it as an appropriate situation for a dramatic response.”

“Clearly rescue is in order,” Moran said. “And the degree to which that could be handled by the Colombian military is positive. But I don’t think rescue by itself is a sufficient response.”

The comments represent the strongest from U.S. officials about the kidnapping of Americans on government business in Colombia.