FBI agents have launched a series of interviews of Muslims and Arab
Americans in the Washington area and across the country, hoping to glean
information that could prevent a major terrorist attack during this
election year.

A few dozen voluntary interviews of community leaders, students,
businesspeople and others have been conducted so far, according to
attorneys and Muslim activists. Authorities said they do not know how many
people will be contacted, but the effort is expected to expand
significantly in the next week or so.

The new round of questioning is also far more targeted than an earlier
program of voluntary interviews with men from Arab and Muslim countries,
which followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was criticized for
being ineffective and using profiling.

“This is not a general population. They are identified by intelligence or
investigative information,” said an FBI official who spoke on condition of
anonymity, in line with department policy. He added that the questioning
did not signify that the people were under investigation themselves.

The questions being posed vary widely, according to attorneys, activists
and interviewees. Several people in California and Arizona have been asked
whether they knew anyone who had recently been in the Pakistani border
region of Waziristan, regarded as a possible refuge for al Qaeda figures.
They were also asked about Abu Nour, which agents identified as a mosque
and school in Syria that was popular with American converts to Islam, the
attorneys and activists said”¦

Those being sought for interviews appear to represent a broad spectrum.
Attorneys and activists said they had heard from students, high-tech
professionals, Muslim leaders and others who had been contacted. Most were
immigrants, but at least one African American Muslim and some U.S.-born
residents were also included.

“Within two days, I received 10 calls from people freaking out because the
FBI was contacting them,” said Deedra Abboud, executive director of the
Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

She said that the FBI agents went out of their way to be low-key but that
Muslims were fearful when they got the calls, worrying that they were under
investigation themselves.

Leaders of Muslim and Arab American organizations have been trying to build
bridges with federal officials since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Many say that the earlier interviews
cast too wide a net and reflected the wrong approach


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