- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

The FBI has included mosques in its annual survey of possible hot spots for crime because some Muslim prayer houses have been vandalized and others linked to terrorists, a bureau spokesman said.
"When churches were being burned, churches were an item that we included in our annual survey," FBI spokesman Bill Carter said last week. "Any suggestion that the number of mosques is being used to investigate terrorism is wrong."
He denied reports that a directive has asked the 56 field offices of the bureau to start "mosque-counting" to conduct surveillance, a claim that has prompted protests by Muslim, Jewish and civil liberties groups.
Mosques "are a small item on a six- or seven-page survey" taken every year, Mr. Carter said.
The FBI investigates hate crimes and vandalism against mosques and also has traced criminal activity, such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, to a few of the prayer houses.
These are crime "vulnerabilities" that the FBI tries to assess in its annual survey to plan the allocation of resources, Mr. Carter said. The bureau has investigated 405 reports of hate crimes against Middle Easterners since September 11, he said.
The American Muslim Council has alerted mosque officers either prayer leaders (called imams) or presidents around the country to protest what it called "a direct attack on religious freedom."
The Jan. 30 alert by the American Muslim Council urged mosques "to demonstrate mass criticism and activism against the new FBI policy."
It also encouraged mosques to preach against the reported FBI plan, send protests to the field office, demand copies of what it called "surveillance reports," draw interfaith and civil rights groups into the protest, and invite the public for open houses.
The number of mosques in the United States is not clear, although a recent American Muslim Council survey claimed 1,000. Some mosques are large, ornate structures that draw hundreds on Fridays, while others amount to urban storefronts or suburban living rooms.
Counting mosques may be harder than counting churches, said sociologist Roger Finke of the American Religion Data Archive.
"In terms of churches, we're pretty much at the mercy of their national offices," said Mr. Finke of Pennsylvania State University. "For mosques, there's no central place to get a number."
In a letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism supported anti-terrorism efforts, but questioned the mosque-counting, first reported in Newsweek.
"Reportedly, the FBI plans to use data on the number of mosques in an area as a means of determining the number of terrorism investigations and intelligence warrants expected from a particular field office," the Jewish organization said.
"It is wrong to associate the practice of Islam with terrorism," it said. "It is unfair to group all mosques together and view them as potential sources of terrorist activity."
Mr. Carter said the Newsweek report took "completely out of context" the fact that it was one topic on the "wide demographic survey," and not a systematic plan to locate mosques for surveillance.
Daniel Pipes, an advocate of tough scrutiny of Islamic groups in the United States, argued in the New York Post this week that the FBI has every right to investigate mosques for terrorism and should not equivocate in saying so publicly.

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