SAN FRANCISCO - Acting on intelligence about a possible terrorist attack in
the United States during the November election, federal investigators have
stepped up efforts to question Muslims and Arabs throughout the country.
Federal authorities launched a new round of interviews this week about
plans to harm Americans.
At the same time, immigration officials are focusing on finding and
arresting foreigners who have violated the terms of their entry visas and
are being sought by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
Muslim, Arab and civil liberties groups said these interviews and arrests
unfairly target people based on their ethnicity and religion and have
proved ineffectual in finding and convicting terrorists.
The groups also charged that FBI agents have asked intrusive questions
about political and religious beliefs while interviewing Muslims and Arabs
and attempted to dissuade people from contacting attorneys before answering
FBI agents are talking to some Muslims and Arabs with critical views of the
U.S. government and its foreign policy, said LaRae Quy, spokeswoman for the
FBI's San Francisco division. All interviews are voluntary, she said.
But she and representatives of the federal Immigration and Customs
Enforcement agency would not reveal how many people nationwide they are
"We're trying to get a feel for people in the community who are dissidents,
who are anti-government," Quy said. "We're trying to learn if within the
Muslim community, are there supporters of terrorism in Iraq?"
Agents are also talking to Muslim leaders who may know about activity the
FBI deemed suspicious such as young men traveling alone to Pakistan without
explanation or people donating to Islamic charities with undefined goals,
"We're trying to work with Muslim leaders and mosque leaders and make
inroads into the community," Quy said.
"If no one wants to talk with us, that's fine, but shame on us if someone
in the Bay Area were planning an attack and we didn't try to stop them."
The interviews and similar investigation tactics have spread fear among Bay
Area Muslims and Arabs who have done nothing wrong, said Bob Kearney,
assistant director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern
"That this is happening so close to the elections we find very concerning,"
Kearney said during a news conference Tuesday morning about the federal
actions. "We believe (Muslims and Arabs) are having their franchise chilled
and their freedom of speech chilled...