Ghassan Takes a Bathey with the FBI

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Posted by Jeff from ( on Friday, March 21, 2003 at 2:40PM :

GATHERING INFORMATION: FBI questions Iraqi Americans

Voluntary interviews aimed at helping war effort

March 21, 2003


From the streets of Dearborn to California, federal agents questioned Iraqi Americans on Thursday for information that could help the U.S. military campaign.

That data will be shared with the CIA and Pentagon, local FBI officials said. Fewer than 400 people are expected to be interviewed in Michigan, out of about 15,000 nationwide.

Today, mayors, police chiefs, and county sheriffs are to meet with Iraqi Americans and other Arab Americans at forums across metro Detroit.

FBI agents are asking detailed questions: Where are you from? Who's in your family? Do you know any terrorists? Have you served in the Iraqi army?

Some metro Detroit Iraqis once served in Iraq's armed forces, but later fled Saddam Hussein's repression.

Nouri Sitto, who owns a sign shop in Oak Park, used to work as a flight navigator in Iraq's air force. He said he came to the United States in 1976 to escape Hussein's tyranny.

Sitto hadn't been questioned as of Thursday, but he supports the FBI's efforts.

"Anything related to our security is good," Sitto said. "We need a secure society, period."

On Warren Avenue, the main commercial thoroughfare for Arab-Americans in Dearborn, FBI agents walked the streets, asking people questions.

Some Iraqi-Americans had mixed reactions.

"It's OK," said Baker Albaaj of Dearborn, who said he also fled Iraq because of Hussein. "But I don't think they will find anything because most of us left Iraq a while ago. I don't think anyone here has news they're looking for."

In Union City, Calif., Ghassan Hanna was surprised to see two FBI agents at the door of his home. Hanna said they asked him if he would answer three pages of questions, a total of 24 or 28.

"They wanted every single detail," said Hanna, general secretary of the Chaldean National Congress, an international political organization.

In Michigan, Saad Marouf, a Southfield resident who heads the Chaldean Federation of America, said FBI officials in Detroit told him that Chaldeans -- Iraqi Catholics -- would not be questioned.

Dawn Clenney, a spokeswoman for the FBI, said the interviews are strictly voluntary and agents would be respectful. The interviews took place all day Thursday and are to continue today. She said agents are concerned about backlash against Arab Americans.

On Wednesday night, the head of Detroit's FBI office, Willie Hulon, told Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee about the interviews two hours before the office sent a news release to the media.

Hamad said he appreciates that. But at the same time, he's against the idea of interviewing people solely on their national origin.

"I don't think it's a wise and healthy approach," said Hamad, who acts as a liaison between the Arab-American community and federal officials. "I don't see it as effective. It smacks of racial profiling."

Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO at 734-432-6501 or Staff writer Frank Witsil contributed to this report.

-- Jeff
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