- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

Interviews by the FBI of nearly 11,000 Iraqi nationals in this country to find terrorists or other potential security threats resulted in the arrest of one Iraqi Intelligence Service official, the expulsions of five others and the detentions of 29 Iraqis on immigration and money diversion charges.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said the FBI had wrapped up the monthlong "voluntary interview" program and, now that the war with Iraq is winding down, would refocus its efforts on protecting the United States against terrorist attacks.

"During the past few weeks, Iraqis in the United States have become our unheralded partners in Operation Iraqi Freedom," Mr. Ashcroft said at a Justice Department press conference. "America is honored by their sacrifices and the risks they have endured to help liberate Iraq."

Hundreds of FBI agents were involved in the around-the-clock interview program, which began March 20. They were looking for Iraqis in this country with ties to Saddam Hussein's regime, those who had recently traveled to or from Iraq and others who posed threats to U.S. national security interests.

Mr. Ashcroft said five Iraqi officials with diplomatic status were suspected of being intelligence agents and were declared persona non grata and expelled from the country. He said a sixth man, Rokan al-Anbuke, the son of a former Iraqi diplomat, was arrested and charged with acting as an agent of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.

Mr. Ashcroft said 22 others were detained on immigration violations and seven on charges of operating unlicensed money-transmitting operations that diverted funds to several Middle Eastern countries.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, who attended the press conference, said the interviews also resulted in 250 reports that were given to the U.S. military to assist in the war in Iraq. The reports helped in locating weapons production and storage facilities, underground bunkers, fiber-optic networks and Iraqi detention and interrogation facilities.

"And according to the Department of Defense, the information was timely, excellent, relevant and greatly assisted in bridging gaps in other intelligence," Mr. Mueller said, adding that FBI agents now are assisting in the review of documents obtained from Iraq in an effort to locate and extract any potentially valuable intelligence information.

Mr. Mueller also said he has sent FBI agents to Iraq to assist in investigations into the "widespread looting of Iraqi museums and other historical sites." He said the agents have issued Interpol alerts to all member nations regarding the potential sale of stolen Iraqi art and artifacts on both the open and the black markets.

"We recognize the importance of these treasures to the Iraqi people and as well, to the world as a whole," he said. "And we are firmly committed to doing whatever we can in order to secure the return of these treasures to the people of Iraq."

The FBI focused on Iraqi nationals based on information developed after the 1991 Gulf war that Saddam planned to use intelligence officers to infiltrate the United States to carry out terror attacks. The bureau said the Iraqi Intelligence Service played a role in several terrorist operations, including the 1993 attempted assassination of former President George Bush.

Mr. Ashcroft said Iraqi intelligence officials "endangered both our nation and the Iraqis who fled Iraq to start a new life here, free of Saddam Hussein's oppression and terror."

The FBI-focused Justice Department Iraqi task force is part of a new policy by federal authorities to keep tabs on foreigners in the United States. Thousands of visitors now have to register since passage of the USA Patriot Act after the September 11 attacks.

Under the act, the visitors are photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed under oath. Those with visa problems can be detained and deported.

Several Arab-American and Islamic organizations, along with various civil liberties groups, denounced the interviews as profiling, although a majority of those questioned were mostly positive about the experience. Mr. Mueller said the FBI received only two complaints about the interview program.

Meanwhile, the FBI reminded 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies yesterday that tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the FBI raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, in which nearly 80 people died when a fire destroyed the site.

An FBI bulletin contained no specific information, but said extremist groups have used anniversaries in the past to stage terrorist attacks including the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

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