Federal officials yesterday dismissed complaints from regional Muslim groups who accused law enforcement agencies that raided 14 homes and businesses in Northern Virginia of conducting a "witch hunt."
"The search warrants executed [Wednesday] by Operation Green Quest were approved by a federal magistrate who found that there was probable cause to conduct these searches," said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service.
Mr. Boyd would not comment on the specific causes. He said they are cited in sealed court documents.
The raids, part of the counterterrorism financial task force's Operation Green Quest, were carried out by about 150 agents from several federal agencies and local police departments, including the Customs Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The warrants were issued against 14 Northern Virginia locations and one site in Georgia. Computers, bank statements and other documents were confiscated from homes and offices during the raids.
The sites raided include the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Herndon and the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences and the Fiqh Council of North America in Leesburg, Va.
Louay Safi, director of research at IIIT, said the agents confined workers to a room without showing them a search warrant and tried to conduct interviews without any attorneys present.
Mr. Safi said his group focuses on research to reform Islamic thought and had nothing to do with terrorists. "We feel that the effort to fight terrorism is headed in the wrong direction. Those attacked are very moderate voices," he said.
Muslim community members packed a conference room in the office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations on Capitol Hill yesterday to register their protest at what they said was a "McCarthylike witch hunt."
Aysha Nudrat Unus, 62, of Herndon, said she heard loud banging on the door of her residence at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Her husband works for the IIIT.
"I was afraid to go out," she said, adding that all she could see was a man in a black jacket and the barrel of a gun against the glass door. Her 19-year-old daughter started to call the police when the agents broke open the door, she said. One pointed a gun at her daughter and asked her to put the phone down, Mrs. Unus said.
She said the agents did not present them with the warrant or even show an ID badge. Her daughter and she were handcuffed and held on their family room sofa for six hours, she said.
"It was a scary experience," she said. "As American citizens, we deserve better."
Another resident, Laura Jaghlit of Fairfax, said she was born and raised in Minnesota and lost a brother in the Vietnam War.
"What happened to us yesterday was the most un-American thing I have seen in my life," she said, recounting the hours between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday when she said agents searched the house after confining her family to the kitchen.
She said the agents went through her family's personal and financial documents. "One of them even joked that maybe they would find Osama bin Laden in the basement," Mrs. Jaghlit said, fighting back tears.
Mr. Boyd would not comment on the specific instances, but said that the warrants were served "without incident."
Muslim leaders said they had consistently supported the U.S. government's war on terrorism and, as American citizens, condemned the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"It looks as if the U.S. government is declaring open season on the Muslim community and groups," said Abdulwahab Alkebsi, executive director of Islamic Institute, a D.C.-based advocacy group. "Events like these do not help us."