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Thread: FBI begins interviews with U.S. Muslims, Arab Americans

  1. #1
    WASHINGTON -- FBI agents are beginning another round of interviews with Muslims and Arab Americans around the country as part of an effort to root out a possible terror attack in the United States this summer and fall, activists and attorneys for some of the people questioned said Saturday.

    The interviewing program was announced in late May at a news conference by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. Officials are concerned that terrorists might seek to disrupt the national political conventions starting later this month or the general election in November, among other threats. But the actual questioning of people presaged by the warning has taken weeks to get off the ground.
    Muslim activists and lawyers said that, in recent days, the FBI has begun interviewing dozens of people in Virginia, Florida, New York and California, among other states. The individuals questioned include a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent in Missouri and a Yemeni college student living in Arizona. None of the people interviewed so far has been told that he or she is a suspect in a terror investigation.

    To many, the interviews are a bewildering case of deja vu. The FBI interviewed thousands of Muslims and Arab Americans after the Sept. 11 attacks and in the walk-up to the war in Iraq last year, fueling allegations of racial profiling by the government. Hundreds of people were jailed or deported for alleged visa and immigration violations after the Sept. 11 roundup.

    FBI officials said in announcing the latest round of interviews in May that they would work to ensure that the process would be driven by specific intelligence rather than race or ethnicity. The approach recently was cited by one bureau official as a reason why the interviewing has taken so long to begin.

    But Muslim leaders said Saturday that they were concerned the FBI was repeating mistakes of the past.

    Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his office had received dozens of reports of Muslims being questioned at their work sites and homes by the FBI. He lashed out at the operation, saying it seemed to target even respected community leaders.

    "The way it's being done stigmatizes the entire community and makes Muslims objects of suspicion to their neighbors and co-workers," Awad said. "This is not right. This is more politics than security."

    He said he hoped to meet with FBI officials on Monday to air his concerns and appeal to them to cooperate more closely with the community during their investigations. "Muslims should be enlisted in the war on terror, not blacklisted," he said.

    Michelle Palmer, an FBI spokeswoman, declined comment Saturday about the latest interviews.

    Bureau officials have been meeting in recent weeks with Muslim groups, seeking to enlist their support at a time when Ashcroft and other officials have said the chances of a terrorist attack on the United States are as high as any time since Sept. 11.

    One FBI official in Washington, D.C., indicated recently that the bulk of the interviewing would not begin until late this month.

    Stacy Tolchin, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild in San Francisco, said her group got four calls recently from Muslims and Arab Americans contacted by the FBI or the local Joint Terrorism Task Force. Tolchin said she accompanied a Turkish Kurdish woman to an interview Tuesday in which two agents asked a wide range of questions -- including whether the client engaged in prayer.

    James Hacking, a Muslim attorney in St. Louis, said he thought the FBI was on a fishing expedition.

    Hacking said he accompanied an Iranian graduate student to an interview with the FBI in St. Louis on Wednesday. He said the client was asked a variety of general questions, including information about Iranian groups operating in the United States and abroad, and whether he had traveled recently to Iran; his client, he said, was unable to provide the investigators with much useful information.

    "This kid was born and raised in the Midwest. He is as American as apple pie," Hacking said. "I think they are just beating the bushes."

  2. #2
    WASHINGTON -- FBI agents are beginning another round of interviews with Muslims and Arab Americans around the country as part of an effort to root out a possible terror attack in the United States this summer and fall, activists and attorneys for some of the people questioned said Saturday.

    The interviewing program was announced in late May at a news conference by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. Officials are concerned that terrorists might seek to disrupt the national political conventions starting later this month or the general election in November, among other threats. But the actual questioning of people presaged by the warning has taken weeks to get off the ground.
    Muslim activists and lawyers said that, in recent days, the FBI has begun interviewing dozens of people in Virginia, Florida, New York and California, among other states. The individuals questioned include a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent in Missouri and a Yemeni college student living in Arizona. None of the people interviewed so far has been told that he or she is a suspect in a terror investigation.

    To many, the interviews are a bewildering case of deja vu. The FBI interviewed thousands of Muslims and Arab Americans after the Sept. 11 attacks and in the walk-up to the war in Iraq last year, fueling allegations of racial profiling by the government. Hundreds of people were jailed or deported for alleged visa and immigration violations after the Sept. 11 roundup.

    FBI officials said in announcing the latest round of interviews in May that they would work to ensure that the process would be driven by specific intelligence rather than race or ethnicity. The approach recently was cited by one bureau official as a reason why the interviewing has taken so long to begin.

    But Muslim leaders said Saturday that they were concerned the FBI was repeating mistakes of the past.

    Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his office had received dozens of reports of Muslims being questioned at their work sites and homes by the FBI. He lashed out at the operation, saying it seemed to target even respected community leaders.

    "The way it's being done stigmatizes the entire community and makes Muslims objects of suspicion to their neighbors and co-workers," Awad said. "This is not right. This is more politics than security."

    He said he hoped to meet with FBI officials on Monday to air his concerns and appeal to them to cooperate more closely with the community during their investigations. "Muslims should be enlisted in the war on terror, not blacklisted," he said.

    Michelle Palmer, an FBI spokeswoman, declined comment Saturday about the latest interviews.

    Bureau officials have been meeting in recent weeks with Muslim groups, seeking to enlist their support at a time when Ashcroft and other officials have said the chances of a terrorist attack on the United States are as high as any time since Sept. 11.

    One FBI official in Washington, D.C., indicated recently that the bulk of the interviewing would not begin until late this month.

    Stacy Tolchin, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild in San Francisco, said her group got four calls recently from Muslims and Arab Americans contacted by the FBI or the local Joint Terrorism Task Force. Tolchin said she accompanied a Turkish Kurdish woman to an interview Tuesday in which two agents asked a wide range of questions -- including whether the client engaged in prayer.

    James Hacking, a Muslim attorney in St. Louis, said he thought the FBI was on a fishing expedition.

    Hacking said he accompanied an Iranian graduate student to an interview with the FBI in St. Louis on Wednesday. He said the client was asked a variety of general questions, including information about Iranian groups operating in the United States and abroad, and whether he had traveled recently to Iran; his client, he said, was unable to provide the investigators with much useful information.

    "This kid was born and raised in the Midwest. He is as American as apple pie," Hacking said. "I think they are just beating the bushes."

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