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Homeland Security

Washington File

10 June 2003

FBI Official Pledges More Outreach to Muslim Community Leaders

(American Muslim Council Holds Nationwide Conference of Imams) (760)
By Elizabeth Kelleher
Washington File Special Correspondent
Alexandria, Va. -- The chief of the Civil Rights Division of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation vowed to protect American Muslims from
hate crimes and to reach out to the Arabs and Muslims across the
United States as to fellow citizens.
Speaking at a conference that drew roughly 300 imams from mosques
around the country, the FBI's Tom Reynolds said his office has made
its "number one priority" the investigation of hate crimes against
Arabs and Muslims. The conference was sponsored by the American Muslim
Council.
Audience members applauded when Reynolds described the FBI's quick
reaction to reports of hate crimes against Muslims after Sept. 11,
2001. Reynolds said such cases peaked in the weeks just following the
attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Until recently, he
said, there had been a quieting. But the number of cases has risen
again since the Iraq war.
Of 484 cases investigated since 9/11, the FBI has convicted 173
subjects and has 100 cases pending.
AMC Chairman Yahya Basha lauded the FBI's record on hate crimes. But
moving to AMC members' recent concerns, Basha said many American
Muslims believe the government has targeted them for investigation
because of their religion.
Reynolds said the FBI does not target Muslims. "The director has said
from the beginning that Islam is good," he said, referring to FBI
Director Robert Mueller. "The problem is not the [Muslim] community;
the problem is a handful of terrorists."
Jamal Barzinji, an AMC board member, said he has heard "horror stories
of how some people were investigated" as terrorists. He said charities
to which American Muslims have donated have been shut down. "You
didn't shut down the United Way," he said, referring to scandals
brought on that organization by its former chief, William Aramony.
Reynolds reminded the audience that he is a "soldier, not a
politician," but said, "when FBI agents overstate their grounds, call
me." He said the agency has an Office of Professional Responsibility
that looks at agents' conduct and that a secret service agent was
fired for writing "Islam is evil" on an office calendar.
Some audience members, during a question-and-answer period, complained
about long detentions of "innocent Muslims."
Earlier, "a broad net was used, and it was maybe too broad," Reynolds
said, referring to detentions. But he said now "everyone's becoming
more focused." Regarding cases in which Arabs or Muslims are being
detained due to immigration status, the director is "trying to
expedite the exchange of information with the agencies so they can
handle that more quickly."
He promised further outreach efforts at FBI headquarters and field
offices. The bureau plans permanent working groups of agents and
Muslims after a successful May 28 meeting between Mueller and eight
Arab and Muslim groups, Reynolds said. Further, he said, the FBI's
training academy at Quantico would continue diversity training.
To underscore the fact that the bureau sees American mosques as allies
in the war on terrorism, not targets of investigation, Reynolds said
the FBI will give community leaders more guidance about what signs to
look for in reporting possible terrorism links. And he expressed hope
that more Muslims would become FBI agents themselves.
Barzinji said before Muslims would be comfortable working for the FBI,
more people like Reynolds would need to "come forward to us and build
bridges." The exchange, while pointed at times, ended cordially, and
Barzinji thanked Reynolds for speaking "honestly, sincerely and
directly."
In other weekend sessions the imams met with national Muslim leaders,
lawyers, academics and media to sharpen their political skills. Debate
among U.S. Muslims about whether to get involved in American politics
is over, said AMC spokesman Faiz Rehman. "Participation is a must."
A media panel gave practical tips for influencing coverage of Muslims.
Imad Musa, of Al-Jazeera television, said that many American Muslims
had focused only on U.S. media coverage of international affairs until
Sept. 11, 2001. He said now mosque leaders have "hard work" ahead to
get to know local reporters and editors. Musa gave guidance on
suggesting stories and reporting errors, but also said the community
must "open up" and "take the bad and the good."
The group wrapped up its four-day conference June 9 with a trip to
Capitol Hill, where the imams got a tutorial on lobbying and visited
their congressional delegations to talk about civil rights
protections.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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