- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

The Justice Department is asking rather than telling Michigan Arabs to set up interviews with local federal officials as part of its hunt for terrorists.
Letters mailed yesterday to 700 people of Arab descent by Jeffrey Collins, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, urge recipients to contact his office for an interview "at a location, date, and time that is convenient for you."
"We have no reason to believe that you are, in any way, associated with terrorist activities," the letter states in bold letters. "Nevertheless, you may know something that could be helpful in our efforts. In fact, it is quite possible that you have information that may seem irrelevant to you but which may help us piece together this puzzle."
Letter recipients were gleaned from a list of people who came to Michigan on a visa from a country "where there are groups that support, advocate or finance international terrorism," the letter says. Those contacted are all between 18 and 33 years old and have all been in the United States on non-immigrant, tourist, business or student visas since Jan. 1, 2000.
The letter contains a Dec. 4 deadline for contacting authorities, and there is no penalty for not responding.
"We're going to cross that bridge when we come to it," said Bob Cares, assistant U.S. attorney in Michigan's Eastern District. "If we talk to them by phone and they say they do not want to be interviewed, that's the end of it."
The soft tone of the letter is a response to complaints of profiling and civil rights violations from the 300,000-plus Arab community in southeast Michigan, the largest settlement outside of the Middle East.
The community became incensed when a report by the state police and presented to the state Legislature asserted that southeastern Michigan was a "major financial support center for many Mid East terrorist groups."
The new campaign to contact the men was announced by Mr. Collins during a press conference yesterday. He said the decision to send the politely worded letter was made by local and federal officials in Michigan.
Those being interviewed may have an attorney present, Mr. Collins told reporters. Also present at the interview likely will be a federal agent and a local member of law enforcement, he said. Interpreters are available if needed.
The Detroit Free Press reported that a Justice Department memo indicated the interview subjects will be asked about their travels, their education, training and whether they have been involved in any "armed conflicts."
The letter calls the interviews "voluntary."
"What they don't tell you is that if you incriminate yourself, you are in deep [trouble]," said Tim Attalla, an Arab lawyer in Detroit. Before September 11, Mr. Attalla received several calls from Middle Easterners who received personal visits from federal agents.
The letter is not the peacemaker that the Justice Department might think it is, Mr. Attalla said.
"I wouldn't discourage people from cooperating," he said. "But I can guarantee you that some people will still yell about profiling."
The new tone is one that will get results, promised Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News in the suburban village of Dearborn, which is considered the center of Detroit's Arab community.
"I would encourage people to cooperate because we have nothing to hide," Mr. Siblani said. He noted the differences between the state police report and the new approach of the federal officers.
"The state police were saying there was a terrorist element here. And this letter says there is not."


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