Bush announcing new terrorist-tracking rules

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush moved to tighten restrictions on foreign student visas Monday, part of an effort to bar the entry of immigrants who commit or support terrorism.

Bush was directing top aides to study the foreign student visa system and develop recommendations for tighter controls, a White House official said.

Several of the 19 hijackers who crashed planes on Sept. 11 entered the United States legally with the kinds of visas routinely granted each year to thousands of foreign students.

Some lawmakers have proposed a six-month moratorium on new foreign student visas until a system for tracking them can be implemented. Bush was stopping short of that step on Monday, an aide said.

Bush also planned to announce creation of a foreign terrorist tracking force that would coordinate efforts by government agencies to keep those with links to terror organizations out of the country, and locate, detain, prosecute or deport terror group associates who already live here, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

"Obviously, on Sept. 11, a group of alien terrorists got into our nation and attacked the Pentagon and World Trade Center, so obviously there's a need for tightening up," Fleischer said. "The president believes that the foreign terrorist tracking task force can ... do its best to prevent any future episodes."

Tom Ridge, director of Bush's Office of Homeland Security, said Attorney General John Ashcroft will lead the task force and will look at all aspects of foreigners' access to the United States.

"Their charge will be to look at all options, all policies and procedures relating to access of noncitizens to this country," Ridge said. "A point of access becomes a point of vulnerability. ... Whether or not it requires any changes in the law remains to be seen."

Bush was announcing the task force Monday during a meeting of his domestic security council. The session will be the first chaired by Bush since the council's creation in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Fleischer did not offer more details on the task force or say which agencies would work with it. But those involved, he said, will be directed by Bush to "work together to locate, detain, prosecute or deport any aliens who are already here who may be engaging in terrorism."

"Obviously people got in and committed the crimes they committed, and that's one lesson we should take from it," Fleischer said.