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  • World View
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2006
      Caroline Drees

      DEARBORN, Michigan (Reuters) - When U.S. soldiers raid a cave in
      Afghanistan, FBI agent William Kowalski knows to expect a call at his
      office in Detroit.

      "When a military raid goes on in Kabul, or in a cave, and they find a
      computer that contains an address book or names and phone numbers,
      invariably I'm going to get a call here that says, 'We did a raid and
      there was this 313 (Detroit-region) area code phone number in it.
      Check it out,'" Kowalski said.

      The Detroit area, and especially the suburb of Dearborn, is home to
      the largest Arab American community in the United States, potentially
      fertile ground for U.S. officials looking for information and help to
      fight the war on terrorism.

      Counterterrorism officials are trying to build closer ties to Muslim
      and Arab Americans through so-called outreach efforts. These include
      townhall meetings, discussions with community leaders and one-on-one
      talks with local residents at mosques, schools or cultural events.

      Officials hope closer ties will encourage community members -- who are
      just as eager to live in safety as other Americans -- to tip off
      authorities to suspicious newcomers or militant activities, allowing
      agents to foil possible plots before it's too late.

      Agents believe immigrant communities may have unique links to conflict
      areas and can help them distinguish between useful leads and red
      herrings after incidents such as the raids Kowalski described.

      But many Muslim and Arab Americans fear the bridge-building initiative
      that began after the September 11 attacks means little more than
      propaganda, recruitment and spying.

      "It's not about reaching out to us and including us," said community
      activist Kenwah Dabaja, whose family emigrated to the United States
      from Lebanon. "The community is nervous."

      Federal, state and local counterterrorism officials say bridging this
      gap in understanding is key to protecting the country, but efforts are
      stumbling over deep-seated mistrust and suspicions.

      Many Arab and Muslim Americans say they have felt the target of racism
      and discrimination after the 2001 attacks, and they accuse law
      enforcement officials of singling them out for scrutiny in the fight
      against terrorism.

      "One thing everybody is taught in this country is that you are
      innocent until proven guilty, but it seems this is not working with
      regard to the Muslim community anymore," said Imam Hassan al-Qazwini,
      the Iraqi-born head of one of the largest U.S. mosques in Dearborn.


      One senior U.S. counterterrorism official in Washington acknowledged
      that "we haven't done enough" to cooperate with Arab and Muslim
      immigrants against terrorism.

      He said the government had to beef up intelligence gathering at home
      by building trust between officials and Americans of Middle Eastern
      descent, linking local police more closely into communities and
      encouraging residents to volunteer information.

      Government agencies as well as state and local law enforcement also
      say they are eager to hire Arab Americans so their workforce better
      reflects the community.

      "Our job is to convince them (community members) that they can trust
      us so that they can come forward with information that will further
      our investigations, or points us in the right direction if they see
      suspicious individuals," said Kowalski, who is the FBI's acting
      special agent charge in Detroit.

      He said the number of Arab Americans was so large in his area that
      almost every U.S. security investigation at home and abroad touched
      his community in some way.

      Brian Moskowitz, the Detroit-based special agent in charge for the
      Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
      said intense outreach efforts to community members since the 2001
      attacks -- including monthly sessions with Arab and Muslim American
      leaders -- had certainly enhanced security cooperation.

      "I don't think it (terrorism) is different than any other crime in the
      sense that you need to have your sources, your ears and eyes as close
      to the action as possible," he said. "Law enforcement in general terms
      has gotten information from the community here. They come because they
      feel they can."


      Michael Bouchard, a Detroit area sheriff who is the only Arab American
      running for the Senate this fall, said law enforcement had begun to
      take steps to improve security cooperation with the community, "but it
      takes time. Every time you have a long-standing misunderstanding and
      distrust, it takes times to break that down."

      Several community members -- and even one Washington-based official
      who spoke on condition of anonymity -- said the authorities were
      probably not plugged into the communities well enough to know if any
      extremists were lurking there.

      Dearborn activist Dabaja said government "outreach" was a misnomer.
      "It's not really outreach. To some it's recruiting and propaganda
      spreading," she said, adding there was a need for genuine closer ties.

      Some community members also feared they were under surveillance,
      especially after the disclosure of domestic wiretapping as part of
      counterterrorism efforts.

      Imam Qazwini praised the regular meetings senior administration and
      law enforcement officials have held with community leaders such as
      him, but he said it wasn't enough.

      "Outreach means that you treat me equally and respect me like any
      other U.S. citizen. You don't look at me with a suspicious eye unless
      you have overwhelming evidence," he said.



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