Reports of spying spook US Arabs

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Posted by Tiglath from ( on Tuesday, November 26, 2002 at 2:51AM :

Reports of spying spook US Arabs
2002-11-24 18:50:12

Daily Times (Pakistan)
24 November, 2002

The surveillance, the informants, the official visits: Professor Ayad
Al-Qazzaz has seen it all before ó and not in his native Iraq.

During the 1990/91 Gulf War, Al-Qazzaz got a friendly visit from some FBI
agents who wanted to make sure he wasnít being harassed, recalls the
sociology professor at California State University in Sacramento.

"They were very nice, very polite, but the hidden message was: ĎWe are
watching you,í" said the 61-year-old energetic anti-war activist. So the
news, reported earlier this month in the New York Times, that US authorities
are stepping up surveillance of Iraqi-Americans, and even looking for
informants among their ranks, does not surprise him.

Al-Qazzaz is sceptical of the official line that the snooping is aimed at
flushing out sympathizers of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein who might be
plotting terrorist attacks.

He sees its as psychological warfare, a carefully placed leak designed to
intimidate critics of the war with Iraq into silence.

"It wonít stop me opposing the war in my own peaceful way," said the
professor, who has participated in half a dozen public debates around the
country in recent months, "but Iím concerned that it will intimidate

Whatever the programís objective, there seems to be little doubt in the
minds of Arab and Muslim leaders that closer scrutiny of Iraqi-Americans,
coming on top of a massive post-September 11 security clampdown on their
communities, has increased the tension on the ground.

When Kareem Irfan, a Muslim leader in the Chicago area, went looking for
someone to denounce what he sees as the latest infringement of Arab civil
liberties, he came up empty-handed. "I couldnít find anyone willing to talk
on the record," said Irfan, who heads up the Council of Islamic
Organizations of Greater Chicago.

"People feel threatened. Theyíre worried that they might already be on some
kind of blacklist. "Thereís an alarmist tendency in our community right

In Detroit, Michigan, home to the largest concentration of Arabs and Muslims
in the United States, the report prompted dozens of calls to the
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).

"People are worried. They see it as a witchhunt," said Imad Hamad, director
of the ADCís office in Dearborn, a heavily Arab suburb of Detroit. And itís
not just the Iraqis ó who together with the Lebanese and Yemenis make up the
largest ethnic groups in the Motor City ó who are cowed.

"Today, itís the Iraqis, but tomorrow it could be the Lebanese, the
Palestinians, the Jordanians," said Hamad. The people in Detroitís
Arab-American community are panicky and on edge, he relates. Rumours make
the rounds very quickly.

Last week, a number of people called the ADCís offices in Dearborn reporting
that US Border Patrol agents had arrested 30 people at three checkpoints in
Dearborn, a predominantly Arab suburb of Detroit.

In fact, Border Patrol agents set up two checkpoints outside of Detroit in
Port Huron and Trenton and made one arrest, officials later told Hamad.

The callers were right about one thing: the activity was unusual, but the
agency, backed by increased federal funding, has stepped up stop-and-search
missions aimed at preventing illegal aliens from making their way across the
US-Canadian border near Detroit.

With local newspapers reporting undercover agents infiltrating Arab and
Muslim communities, and street informants feeding information to
investigators, and tax agents poring over Muslim charity and business
records, (the Detroit Free Press: November 12), people are nervous at any
brushes with US authority.

Reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation will soon resume its
voluntary interviews of young Arab and Muslim American in the Detroit area
has triggered a flood of anxious phone calls to the ADC, according to Hamad.

FBI officials in the capitol, who began their own series of interviews this
week, tried to reassure community leaders there, saying the exercise was
purely an "information-gathering," one in a meeting Wednesday. But callers
in Detroit "want to know what kind of questions theyíre going to be asked.
They want to know what their rights are," recounted Hamad.

"The interviews are voluntary but most of them think that if they decline,
they will be subject to retaliation."

-- Tiglath
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