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[casi] FBI targets Iraqis in US

Posted on Sat, Jan. 25, 2003 Associated Press
FBI questioning Iraqis in U.S.
The bureau is looking for those who might work against Hussein - or those who
might support him.
By Curt Anderson
WASHINGTON - The FBI is questioning as many as 50,000 Iraqis living in the
United States in a search for potential terrorist cells, spies, or people who
might provide information helpful to a U.S. war effort.
Agents have fanned out across the country to interview Iraqis in their homes
and where they work, study and worship. A senior government official,
describing the program to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity,
said the interviews began about six weeks ago and would last several months.
The FBI is looking for people who might wish to harm America or whose visas
have expired. It also is seeking those who might be interested in helping the
United States overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whose rule many of
them fled.
About 300,000 people of Iraqi origin live in the United States, according to
the Iraqi-American Council. There are large Iraqi communities in Michigan,
California, Illinois and elsewhere.
The Bush administration has long been seeking definitive links between
Hussein's government and al-Qaeda or other terror groups. Council chairman
Aziz al-Taee said people who had been interviewed told him the FBI was
"asking if anybody knows someone who worked with Saddam. They asked about a
list of some who have vanished. They are asking about terrorist cells."
Abigail Price, immigration director of the International Rescue Committee,
said she was visited recently by FBI agents who said they were from the
counterterror unit and interested in various populations of refugees and
where to find them.
Price said she spoke with some Iraqi Kurds in the Atlanta area who were
interviewed by FBI agents. Many were upset, she said.
FBI agents are given sensitivity instructions from headquarters to stress
that the interviews are voluntary and to assure people that the government
will protect them from any anti-Iraqi backlash.
Still, Price said, "they come to us because they are afraid. They ask: 'Are
they going to send us back? Have we done something wrong?' No matter how nice
they are, it really is frightening."
According to the Iraqi-American Council, many people of Iraqi origin in the
United States are of Kurdish ancestry; were part of the Shiite Muslim
majority in Iraq, who are largely frozen out of political power there; or are
Christians. Most in those groups fundamentally oppose Hussein and would have
little interest in spying or becoming terrorists for his government, Taee
More than 50,000 Iraqis came to the United States after the 1991 gulf war,
and many became U.S. citizens. Taee said those people probably would be
willing to help the Bush administration, particularly in a domestic
public-relations campaign to support U.S. military action.
Administration officials say they are looking for any links between Iraqis in
this country and possibly sympathetic radical Muslim groups, such as al-Qaeda
and Hezbollah, which have their own anti-American agendas. Iraq's
intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, is not viewed as a serious espionage
threat within the United States.
Equally important to the government is identifying Iraqis who might know
about weaknesses in Hussein's government or the country's defenses, or who
might be in contact with people interested in defecting or giving crucial
information. For these reasons, a key to the program is FBI interviews with
educated or wealthy people such as doctors and businesspeople living in this
Some Iraqis are in the United States on temporary visas to attend school,
visit relatives, or do business. The Justice Department recently ordered all
males in this group age 16 and above to be photographed and fingerprinted at
immigration offices if they intend to stay for any length of time.

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