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Terror cases stretch FBI’s space in Detroit

- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

DETROIT -- Not even the site of the venerable Tiger Stadium is large enough to hold all the agents and bureaucrats it takes to tackle the workload of the FBI's ever-expanding Detroit bureau.

In the region of the nation's largest Arab-American population, hundreds of terror-related investigations are reported to be ongoing, propelling the growth of the bureau.

Although the agency's personnel numbers are not made public for security reasons, the FBI's 100,000 square feet of office space in Detroit is inadequate, said Special Agent Dawn Clenney.

"We started hiring additional employees after September 11, and now we have intelligence analysts, translators and more special agents," Agent Clenney said. "We are now one of the top 15 agencies as far as personnel, with a very substantial number of terror investigations. More so than other FBI offices because they don't have that large a [Middle Eastern] population."

The Detroit News has reported that since September 11, Detroit's FBI office more than tripled the number of agents working on counterterrorism. And of 29 major terror groups known to be working in the U.S., the Detroit office has ongoing investigations involving 17.

The FBI is seeking a 266,000-square-foot space on as much as 11 acres with a budget of $65 million. And the vacant Tiger Stadium's six-acre site -- briefly pondered -- won't work despite its massive presence in a deserted area west of downtown.

Among the requirements: a 100-foot setback from the street to discourage terrorist attacks via car bombs.

The Arab-American community here has decried the anti-terror efforts and denied that the region is a haven for terrorist funding. Still, the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit has successfully prosecuted many people in the past four years for supporting terror groups.

"I hope that the need for this expansion is not as great as they are making it out to be," said Tim Attalla, a lawyer and activist in Detroit's Middle Eastern community, estimated at 350,000 people.

Mr. Attalla grew up in that community and recalls that even in the 1970s there was a strong law-enforcement presence in it.

"Back then it was the state police," Mr. Attalla said. "And I also remember the FBI knocking on doors in the Middle Eastern community, usually early in the morning. Once it was just before Yasser Arafat [came to the U.S.]. They would ask general questions, just keeping tabs, it seemed."

Now, though, the FBI is used as a reliable threat in the community even in the case of personal conflict.

"But I do know that in our community, when there is a squabble, sometimes an angry wife or relative will call the FBI and tell them so-and-so is funneling money to Hezbollah just out of anger. So there is no shortage of informants in the Arab community here," Mr. Attalla said, in reference to a Lebanese militant group.