A law enforcement task force on terrorism in Western New York held its first meeting Thursday at the U.S. attorney's office in downtown Buffalo.
About 50 federal, state, county and local law enforcement officials, including some from Rochester via videoconference, took part in the meeting.
"We've actually had a working group on terrorism in this area since the World University Games (in 1993)," said acting U.S. Attorney Kathleen M. Mehltretter. "I guess you could say that now, with the events of last week, we're formalizing the task force."
Thursday's meeting was in response to a directive from U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who said this week that federal prosecutors would start terrorism task forces in 93 districts throughout the nation. A veteran prosecutor, Martin J. Littlefield Jr., is coordinator of the local task force.
According to Peter J. Ahearn, special agent in charge of the Buffalo office of the FBI, the meeting was largely organizational. He said area police officials were briefed on the status of the investigation into last week's terrorist attacks.
"Hundreds of leads have been pursued," Ahearn said. "We have a watch list of potential suspects and witnesses, but so far, nothing has come up linking anyone in Western New York to these crimes."
Police and bridge inspectors throughout the region remain on high alert for the possibility of more terrorism. Authorities think it's possible that people involved in last week's terrorist acts could pass through Western New York on their way to Canada.
FBI agents near Chicago on Thursday arrested Nabil Al-Marabh, a suspected terrorist who previously had been arrested by Canadian customs agents in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Al-Marabh, who lived in Toronto for six years, was one of more than 100 people on the FBI watch list of people wanted for questioning in the bombing case, authorities said.
The Associated Press reported that the 34-year-old man was arrested in Niagara Falls, Ont., in June for allegedly having a forged passport. He was supposed to appear in court in Welland, Ont., on Sept. 13 -- two days after the terrorist attacks -- but failed to show up.
Ahearn declined to comment on Al-Marabh except to say that he is unaware of any Western New York connection.
Mehltretter said no charges have been filed in this region involving any of the suspected terrorists.
Mehltretter said federal prosecutors also are warning the public to be wary of fraudulent fund-raising efforts that claim to seek donations for victims of the terrorist attacks.
A report on these scams is available in the "What's New" section of the Justice Department's Web site, www.usdoj.gov, Mehltretter said.