FBI asks for Muslim help in terror hunt

By MICHAEL KIRKLAND, UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent  |  May 29, 2003 at 5:20 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 29 (UPI) -- The FBI is considering a 10-point "partnership" program offered by the Muslim-American community to fight terrorism, a Muslim leader said Thursday.

FBI Director Robert Mueller met Wednesday at bureau headquarters with the leaders of national Muslim, Sikh and Arab-American organizations in the latest of a series of conferences.

Salam al-Maragati, executive director of the Washington and Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, suggested the 10-point plan, and said Mueller promised to give the FBI's response within two weeks.

Al-Maragati said the two most important points were that the national organizations should "ask our communities to open their doors" to the FBI during investigations, and that the FBI should be more specific on what the local communities should do during heightened homeland security alerts.

The Muslim-American leader said Mueller requested Wednesday's meeting to "get our thoughts and ideas on how to work more closely together within partnership guidelines."

The FBI also is asking the Muslim community for an "advisory committee" that would help the bureau catch terrorists and protect the rights of Muslims in the United States.

An FBI spokesman said the bureau would not discuss the details of the Wednesday meeting, except to say its purpose was "to set up an advisory committee that we can work with on a state and national level."

Al-Magrati's 10 points were divided into four points for Muslim-community leaders, and six for the FBI.

The points for community leaders included:

-- Setting up community-based task forces to work with federal and local law enforcement on measures to protect the nation. Interfaith leaders, human relations commission representatives, and civic leaders should be part of the task force.

Al-Magrati said community task forces have already been set up in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, and the FBI should work with them.

-- Building a partnership focused on solving problems instead of reacting to crises. "As responsible American institutions, it is the responsibility of community leaders to advise their members to be open and cooperative with law enforcement without hesitation."

-- Educating "officers of houses of worship of their responsibilities regarding activities and speeches that take place on behalf of their organizations."

-- Educating youth "with positive messages dealing with American citizenship and social responsibilities."

The six points for the bureau:

-- Creating forums "on how members of faith and ethnic communities can enhance dialogue with the FBI, Department of Justice and Homeland Security agencies in the local areas."

-- Publicly acknowledging positive role models within the Muslim community.

-- Coordinating with the State Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control "to provide simplified lists (of terror-supporting organizations) to community-based organizations and to provide advisories that can help community members detect problems."

-- Presenting clear, unambiguous suggestions to citizens who want to assist in law enforcement efforts. "The public needs to understand more clearly what it means to be 'vigilant,' and it needs clear directives on how to report suspicious behavior. Federal and local agencies must provide specific tips on recognizing criminal behavior while discouraging hoaxes and vigilantism. These guidelines must be easily accessible on Web sites."

-- Working with public and private schools to educate students about the White House strategy on combating terrorism.

-- Developing a phone and e-mail contact list of the local representatives of law enforcement for community-based organizations. "The FBI, U.S. attorney's office, Department of Justice, state attorney general, county district attorney, county sheriff, mayor and city attorney must be on the list."

Another of the meeting's participants, Islamic Institute Chairman Khaled Saffuri, said the "thrust of the meeting was the working relationship between the Muslim community" and the FBI, specifically in two areas: "how to find radical elements in the Muslim community" and "how to protect the rights of Muslims in the United States."

Saffuri said he told Mueller that the FBI should work directly with local communities.

"I recommended that there be meetings at other levels" below the national leadership, Saffuri said. National groups such as the Washington-based institute "have difficulty identifying radical groups. We recommended that FBI work closely (with local leaders) in communities where there are major mosques."

The cooperation works both ways, he added. "Our (national) organizations have asked (local leaders) to watch for suspicious elements in the community," he said.

Saffuri said Mueller appeared to be "very understanding" and appreciative of the advice.

The cooperation between the Muslim organizations and the bureau is not new, Saffuri said. "The director has mentioned on several occasions that the Muslim community has been very helpful" in the war against terror, "but the media has decided not to mention that."

In fact, Wednesday's meeting was the fourth in a series between the director and the leaders of national Muslim, Sikh and Arab-American organizations, though not all of them have been publicized.

Following a meeting last February, the FBI issued a media release saying, "The FBI's aggressive response to hate crimes has sent a clear message that vigilante attacks will not be tolerated. (Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks), the FBI has initiated 414 hate crime investigations involving Muslim, Sikh and Arab-American victims, with 17 persons being charged federally thus far. Additionally, some 129 persons have been charged with state and local crimes in connection with those investigations."

After a similar meeting in February last year, Mueller issued a statement saying the conference had led to a "better understanding and a productive exchange of ideas," as well as "a commitment to a continuing dialogue on those issues and others of concern to the affected groups."

Not that there aren't continuing problems between the FBI and other government agencies on one side, and the general Muslim community on the other.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement Thursday citing two newspaper reports contending mistreatment of Muslims.

One report in the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News said U.S. Customs officials "are increasingly asking Muslim travelers about their faith as they return to the United States" from abroad.

The San Francisco chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said one man with an Arabic name was asked on his return from Ecuador whether he was a Sunni or a Shiite. The group said the man, a U.S. citizen and local software manager, was also asked whether he was a Wahhabi, "a follower of the strict Sunni faith practiced by many in Saudi Arabia."

CAIR also cited a story in The Washington Post Thursday that said "Little Pakistan" in Brooklyn "is a neighborhood being pulled up at its roots" by government agents looking for potential terrorists.

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