The FBI has called off a global manhunt for two men who looked Middle Eastern and were spotted snapping pictures and demonstrating "suspicious behavior" on a Washington ferry last summer.
The men appeared at a U.S. Embassy two weeks ago and identified themselves as European business consultants who were on a trip to Seattle, FBI officials said Monday.
Special Agent in Charge Laura Laughlin said the men took a couple of days off in the middle of the July visit and decided to ride a car ferry. They took photos to show relatives back home, she said.
FBI agents have seen the photos and found them to be innocuous, as were the pair's business activities, Laughlin said. . .
Photos of the pair, taken by Washington State Ferries employees, were released to the news media in August in an effort to identify and locate them, after an investigation found that they "showed an inordinate interest in the operation of the shipboard systems," the FBI said at the time.
Two years ago, a Justice Department report named the Washington ferry system as a top target for maritime terrorism.
The decision to release the photos was controversial, in part because some news organizations chose not to publish them. The Seattle P-I ruled out publication, citing civil liberties and privacy concerns, which editors felt outweighed the newsworthiness of the images. . .
Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights and advocacy group, had no criticism of the FBI's handling of the incident.
"The authorities handled this situation quite well," he said Monday. "I have no indication that the authorities went beyond what they are allowed to do. Reports were brought to them and they checked them out the best they could."
But Hooper wasn't happy with some other responses: "Anti-Muslim Internet hate sites; the bloggers; the ones that routinely say 'round up the usual Muslim suspects'; the extremist commentators that would be willing give up the rights of others to create a false sense of security for themselves.
"Media outlets that chose not to pander to this type of hysteria made the right choice and indeed protected the reputation of people who were doing nothing more than sightseeing," Hooper said.
"At the time, there was a hue and cry that it was justified to single these people out merely based on their appearance and the perception that they may have been Middle Eastern or Muslim, and that perception was used to justify profiling them for security concerns," he added.
"Once there is a perception that the individual is Muslim or Middle Eastern, every subsequent act becomes suspicious in the eyes of the onlooker." (MORE)