Central Florida Muslims and Arab-Americans say they are feeling a renewed
sense of dread as FBI agents kick up efforts to prevent terrorist attacks
with a batch of interviews similar to those conducted after Sept. 11, 2001.
Local Muslim leaders said several people in Florida had already been
questioned, leading many to stay out of the public eye and hesitate before
answering their phones…
The government introduced the new interview program in May amid concern
that terrorists could target national political conventions this summer or
the general election in November. The program didn’t get off the ground
until recently, Muslim advocacy groups said, when FBI officials began
questioning people in Florida, New York, California and Virginia, among
other states. FBI officials did not return calls for comment by Sunday night.
FBI officials interviewed thousands of Muslims and Arab-Americans after the
2001 terrorist attacks and before the Iraq war, leading to accusations of
racial profiling. FBI officials said in May that they would work to ensure
that neither race nor ethnicity motivated the new interview process.
Instead, they said, they would try to target interviews to those thought to
have information about possible plots.
The Tampa office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations received
about 10 calls from Florida residents who had been questioned, said Ahmed
Bedier, a council spokesman. Three of those calls were from the Orlando
area, Bedier said. He said most of the calls were complaints that
investigators had asked personal questions about politics or taxes, which
had nothing to do with national security.
“We are for security and we are for strong law enforcement,” Bedier said.
“At the same time, we don’t want to do that at the expense of our civil
rights and our privacy. The act of canvassing different communities across
the country, that’s just going to alienate people.”
Bedier said federal officials should engage Muslim community leaders to
help avoid targeting innocent people. What seems suspicious to a
law-enforcement official could be an easily explainable religious custom,