Saying the Patriot Act has helped prevent further terrorist attacks on America, Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday called for even tougher law-enforcement tools.

In Tampa, Fla., Ashcroft reissued a warning that terrorists intend to attack the U.S. and that the upcoming Fourth of July holiday and political conventions should be considered prime targets.

“We are a nation at war,” Ashcroft said. “There are times when 9-11 may seem like a distant memory, but it is not. Al-Qaida wants to hit us and hit us hard.”

Ashcroft said the nation is entering a “season of symbolic events” that might become terrorist targets. While not wanting the public to be fearful and not enjoy the upcoming holiday, he urged people to be vigilant.

His warnings, similar to ones issued in late May, followed a visit in Tampa to an anti-terrorism group meeting at the Port of Tampa, considered by many law-enforcement officials to be one of Florida’s prime targets for a possible attack.

The attorney general’s visit to the Tampa Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, a group of local and federal law-enforcement officials, was part pep talk and part lobbying effort for additional anti-terror tools.

He said the changes made by the Patriot Act in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks gave government agencies the ability to share information, but investigators still need additional powers.

Civil-liberties groups have criticized the Patriot Act, saying it weakens judicial review and other checks to law enforcement’s surveillance and investigative powers.

Ashcroft argued that law enforcement needs more powers, not fewer. Among those he called for are the power for investigators to subpoena business records in terrorism investigations on their own rather than through a grand jury and a federal death penalty for some terrorism attacks in which people are killed.

Ashcroft is also asking Congress to allow judges to impose the death penalty for those convicted of terrorist activities that do not now have death penalty specifications.

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