Still upset about past scrutiny, Arab-Americans and Muslims in Central
Florida are questioning the FBI’s latest plan to interview community
members as part of a broad initiative to uncover possible terrorist plots
before the presidential elections.

For the past week, FBI and state agents have held meetings across Florida
with community leaders to explain a mandate from Washington to seek fresh
interviews about suspicious activity. Similar events are taking place
across the country, part of a nationwide effort to glean information that
might foil a possible plot by al-Qaeda to disrupt the Nov. 2 vote.

Although Arab-American community leaders said they understand the need for
vigilance and support efforts to root out terrorists, they raised questions
Wednesday about the FBI-led plan.

“Our community is already afraid and jittery, because there has already
been several rounds of detainees and interviews since 9-11,” said Ahmed
Bedier, a Tampa-based spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic
Relations, a Washington civil-rights group.

Bedier said the questions, which according to FBI officials number about a
dozen, also come at a sensitive time — only days before Islam’s holy month
of Ramadan.

“I informed them that during the month of Ramadan, all Muslims look
suspicious and their days are turned upside down,” Bedier said of two
recent meetings with the FBI in Tampa.

“They get up early in the morning. There’s heavy traffic at the mosques.
Someone not aware could misinterpret their actions.”

Other local leaders echo Bedier’s sentiments. But they also say they sense
political overtones in the law-enforcement agencies’ actions.

Among some of the questions agents intend to ask is whether they know
anyone critical of the domestic war on terrorism or whether they have heard
any anti-U.S. propaganda, according to people who attended a meeting with
FBI and state agents…


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